‘Rising Islamist extremism’  spreading across globe, says report

Jihad 1 Credit Oleg Zabielin via wwwshutterstockcom CNA 1 22 16 Oleg Zabielin via www.shutterstock.com.

Islamist terrorist groups are unleashing a new wave of violence and persecution from west Africa to the Pacific, according to a new report on religious persecution. 

The report, released last month by the international Catholic pastoral aid organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), found that as a result of increased jihadist activity, persecution of Christians along the equator has skyrocketed in recent years.

ACN’s report, “Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians Oppressed for their Faith, 2020-2022,” found that the equatorial regions of Africa and the Pacific have been particularly affected. Christians and other minority religions in these regions face violent persecution and in many cases the choice to “convert or die” at the hands of radical Islamist groups, at least one of which is affiliated with ISIS.

According to ACN, “in 75 percent of countries surveyed, the oppression or persecution of Christians increased.” ACN also states that “the situation of Christians (in Africa) worsened in all countries reviewed amid evidence of a sharp increase in genocidal violence from militant non-state actors, including jihadists.” While in Asia, “religious nationalism has caused increasing persecution of Christians.” 

The African region has been prone to sporadic and disorganized violence in the past, yet this new rise in jihadism is different, according to ACN. The radical Islamist groups not only are extending a jihad across the continent but are increasingly organizing and coordinating their efforts. ACN’s 2022 report states that “Christians across the continent face the threat of rising Islamist extremism.” This rise in jihadism is being led by “groups like Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP),” which are seeking “to establish caliphates in the Sahel region,” according to ACN’s report.

Nations across Africa have been subjected to radical Islamist terror campaigns intent on forcing their extreme version of Islam on the local populations.  ACN reports that Christians’ plight in Mali, Sudan, Nigeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Mozambique notably worsened in 2022. 

This rise in jihadism has brought on a mass displacement of Christian populations and grievous human rights violations abound. In many cases, men are executed while women and children are subjected to rape and forced servitude.

In Mozambique alone, “Islamist attacks by Al-Shabab have led to the displacement of more than 800,000 and the deaths of more than 4,000.” 

This increase in violent Islamist extremism builds on an increase previously reported by ACN’s 2021 report on religious freedom in the world. Already by 2021, ACN found that hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost and millions displaced as 14 African nations have been subjected to jihadist campaigns, with the situation in 12 of these nations being particularly dire. “With the growing Islamist radicalization, Christians tend increasingly to become a specific target for the terrorists,” ACN reports. 

According to ACN, “the threat from militant Islamist groups in Africa is not monolithic but comprises a constantly shifting mix of roughly two dozen groups actively operating — and increasingly cooperating.” 

ACN’s posits that the international community’s response to this crisis in Africa has been thus far insufficient to render proper aid to the suffering population. In some nations, such as Burkina Faso, hundreds of thousands have been displaced yet “more than 60 percent of the territory was not accessible to humanitarian aid workers” as of the end of 2020, according to ACN. 

ACN’s states that “the multinational military missions deployed in West Africa have not been successful.” This is further evidenced in that the “Islamic State has declared six so-called ‘provinces of the caliphate’ in Africa.” 

In the Pacific, governments have either failed to quell or been complicit in the rise of jihadist movements within their nations, according to ACN. ACN states that the threat to Christians and non-Muslims from groups identifying as part of a transcontinental caliphate, though on a smaller scale than in Africa, is very real and deadly.

The report also details incidents in which local authorities in Indonesia have cooperated with jihadist forces to close down Christian churches and places of worship for other minority religions. In 2017, an Indonesian radical Islamic group known as the Front for the Defense of Islam spearheaded a movement to oust the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, and even imprison him for two years on “blasphemy” charges.

The Maldives, a small nation south of India, is “in the grip of both state-imposed Islamic orthodoxy and non-state Islamist extremism,” according to ACN. Violent jihadism has been on the rise in the Maldives to which the government has in many ways cooperated, banning the expression of any other religion than Sunni Islam.

Even in the majority Catholic nation of the Philippines, ACN reports that jihadist groups including Abu Sayyaf (the so-called East Asia Province of the Islamic State) have unleashed a new wave of religiously motivated violence on non-Muslims. Since its founding, Abu Sayyaf has been responsible for bombings, kidnappings, and executions. Abu Sayyaf’s violence appears to have increased in recent years with new attacks on a hospital, a Catholic church, and a Filipino military camp. In 2019, the group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Catholic church during Sunday mass that killed 21 of the faithful and injured many more.

ACN releases a biennial report, based on firsthand testimony from local sources, on the state of religious freedom across the globe. Visit the organization's website to download the complete report.

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Editor’s note: This article was revised to distinguish between ACN”s 2022 report released last month and ACN’s 2021 report on religious freedom around the world.

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