By BosNewsLife Africa Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
NAIROBI/NIAMEY (BosNewsLife)– Dozens are dead after churches, Christian shops, and pastors’ homes were attacked across Niger by angry Muslims protesting against French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s second portrayal of the prophet Mohammed, while in Kenya police searched for a gunman who killed a Christian.
Protests launched by outraged Muslims in former West African French colonies spread from Niger to Algeria and Senegal, prompting Christians in these and other nations to seek shelter for fear of violent reprisals against them.
Muslim-majority African countries Somalia and Sudan and in Asia, Pakistan, also reported violent clashes. The bloodiest attacks targeting Christians were reported in Niger.
In a statement released by advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC), missionaries said in the capital Namey “all of [their] churches have been burned along with pastor homes…”
They added that “almost every church [they] know, or are associated with, has been attacked.”
Despite seeing smoke “around all sides of [their] house” the missionaries pledged they would remain in Niamey. “Jesus said: ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’ We are confident that this persecution will only grow the church and the Gospel in Niger.”
World Renew Niger, a major mission and aid group, confirmed the widespread destruction and said it is “on very high alert as the chaotic mass moves through the city.” Many local believers, it added, “have sought shelter somewhere other than their homes.”
Reporters saw at least seven churches burning in Niger, most of them evangelical churches, which were torched on the left bank of Niamey.
Riots and attacks against churches, including house congregations, were also reported elsewhere and in the center of the capital, where police deployed tear gas against those gathered.
As many as 20 Nigeriennes died in the violence since Friday, according to rights investigators. Besides churches, police stations and government buildings were reportedly attacked in Zinder, Niamey, Maradi and Goure.
Elsewhere in Africa, police searched for a gunman who shot a Christian dead at the gate leading to a church worship site on in the post city of Mombase, Christians said.
One of two men reportedly followed 25-year-old George Muriki when he and two fellow church members arrived at the gate leading to Maximum Revival Ministries church. Muriki was shot three times in the back by the gunman, apparently after mistaking him for the church pastor, the pastor added in published remarks.
Soon after the January 11 incident, a 70-year-old Christian who had just left Neno Evangelism Church in Mombasa was shot near Kenya Methodist University, Christians explained.
Ngoro Nyaga was reportedly hospitalized Monday, January 12, with a bullet wound in his shoulder at Coast Provincial General Hospital.
The motives of the attackers were not immediately clear, but it came amid mounting concerns over Islamic extremism in northern and coastal Kenya, especially after last week’s terror attacks in Paris that killed 20 people, including the three gunmen.
Islamic militants have also been linked to the February 2, 2014, killing of 59-year-old Lawrence Kazungu Kadenge, an assistant pastor at Glory of God Ministries Church in the Majengo area of Mombasa.
And on October 19, 2013, suspected Islamists in Mombasa killed pastor Charles “Patrick” Matole of Vikwantani Redeemed Gospel Church following riots associated with a mosque said to be a recruitment center for Islamic terrorists, Christians said. He had apparently received death threats.
ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa, Cameron Thomas, is increasingly concerned about the plight of African Christians. “Communities across the Islamic world, outraged by the satirical magazine’s depictions of Muslims and the prophet Mohammed, have formed into violent mobs and taken to burning churches and Christian homes and businesses,” Thomas added.
Charlie Hebdo decided to print the cartoons, after 12 people were killed by Islamists in its Paris headquarters.
Yet, “In response, Christians in Niger, Mali, Sudan and Somalia have fallen into states of panic and, in many cases, have fled their homes for shelter from possible attack in response to the publication’s decision to confront issues of Islamic extremism with cartoons,” Thomas added.
Christians in Muslim-majority countries hostile to even the practice, let alone the spread, of Christianity face incredible hardship for their faith that is often made worse by seemingly unconnected actions in the Western world.”
Thomas expressed concern that, “Over the course of these riots, dozens of churches and Christian businesses and homes will burn for a cause unconnected to themselves.”
The ICC added that “thoughts and prayers go out to those who have lost property and loved ones in the violence”.
He said prayers were said, “with the hope that no more innocent lives will fall victim to the violence or destruction that was sparked last week on the streets of Paris and has now spilled over onto the streets of Niamey, more than 2,000 miles away.”