In the Sahel, Bishops Denounce a Growing Jihadist Threat

September 05, 2021
Children in a refugee camp in northeast Nigeria

As the deadly raids by jihadist groups in the Sahel multiply, the bishops of Niger and Burkina Faso are stepping up to express their concern for the future of a region weakened by the recent coup d'état in Mali, the death of Idriss Déby, the emblematic Chadian head of state, and the reorganization of the French presence.

Attacks by jihadist groups in the Sahel countries are on the increase, especially in the area known as the three borders between Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

In Burkina Faso, at least 47 people, including 30 civilians, died on August 18, 2021 in an attack on a convoy on the Arabinda-Gorgadji road in the north.

“An atrocious act that we strongly condemn,” said the Conference of Bishops of Burkina-Niger (CEBN) in a press release dated August 23.

“In this painful circumstance, we offer our sincere condolences to the bereaved families and to all the Burkinabé people, afflicted by this tragedy. We wish a speedy recovery to the wounded,” add the African prelates, inviting “the sons and daughters of the Church of the Family of God in Burkina Faso to intensify their prayers for peace in the country.”

In Niger, the situation is not much better: on the night of August 24 to 25 in Baroua in the Diffa region, a Nigerien army position was attacked by a hundred elements of Boko Haram coming from the Lake Chad.

According to the official statement from the Niamey army, 16 Nigerian soldiers and around 50 members of Boko Haram lost their lives in the fighting.

Two days later, on August 20, 19 civilians were killed in an attack on a village in the Tillabéri region in western Niger. The terrorists - suspected jihadists - attacked worshipers who were finishing Friday prayers in the local mosque.

Niger must face both groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS) organization operating in the west of the country, as well as the Nigerian group Boko Haram and its dissident wing - ISWAP - operating in the Lake Chad area.

In Mali, the situation suddenly became tense on August 19: around forty soldiers from an elite unit, trained by American and Spanish soldiers, died in a series of successive ambushes in the Mopti region, in the center of the country.

The terrorists also captured an unknown number of soldiers and numerous vehicles, as well as weapons.

Jihadist groups are active in the Sahel, and have significant financial and material resources obtained by drawing upon religion, ethnic conflicts, anti-Western speeches, corruption and especially social misery, which is recurrent in this region of Africa.

Not to mention the political instability of which the radical groups take great advantage—the recent coup d'état in Mali, the death in combat of the Chadian head of state Idriss Déby, and the gradual redeployment of French forces with the gradual end of the Barkhane operation—all of which plunges the Sahel into a most agonizing uncertainty.