Northern Mali Christians Forced to Abandon their Homes as They Flee Threats and Daily Attacks from Islamic Jihadists

By Troy Augustine and ICC’s Mali Staffer

Christians in northern Mali face a barrage of threats from radical Islamists forcing them with little choice, but to leave their homes for safer pastures.

For many, displacement represents a new normal, some having been dislodged from their homes for as many as five years, while still lacking stability in the new homes which they have established in Bamako, Mali’s capital.

“The recent terrorism threat against Christians in northern Mali made us to flee and take refuge in Bamako as my head was also put on price by these extremists,” Moctar* told International Christian Concern (ICC).

“We lost our property and our houses have been inhabited by these extremists and our church was destroyed. I have tried to stay, but escaped three times from these Islamists’ plan to kidnap me and behead me,” he added.

Christians in northern Mali like Moctar face persecution from all sides. If life wasn’t hard enough as a religious minority that represents less than ten percent of the total Muslim-majority population, enter an upsurge of radical Islamic terrorism for the past half-decade.

A Rise in Extremist Takeover

In April 2012, ethnically Tuareg rebels seized control of northern Mali, declaring independence. The Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA in French) and Islamist Ansar Dine rebel groups merged and declared northern Mali to be an Islamic state.

Ansar Dine began to impose Islamic sharia law in the northern city of Timbuktu, a move that al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) supported, which forced many Christians to urgently flee to take immediate refuge in Bamako.

Where Sharia is strictly enforced, Christians face the worst kinds of persecution. As the world has watched the expansion of the Islamic State (IS) across Iraq and Syria, brothers and sisters in Christ face either forced conversion, death, or are compelled to pay a crippling tax to their Islamic overlords. In the face of these possibilities in northern Mali, Christians were pushed to leave in droves.

The threat of persecution in Mali’s north has forced Christians from Timbuktu, Kidal, Mopti and Gao alike to seek refuge in Bamako.

“On March 27th 2012, seven members of my family strong of 13 members fled to escape from an imminent trap and invasion of Islamic terrorists. Yet threats and insecurity are limiting us to get access to initiatives and opportunities refreshing or extending our ministries,” Laurent* told ICC.

In 2013, Mali’s President Dioncouda Traore asked France for help in the fight against surging Islamist expansion. French troops rapidly captured Gao, Timbuktu, and entered Kidal within a month in a counteroffensive that appeared to be leading towards peace.

On June 2013, the Malian government signed peace deal with Tuareg nationalists to pave way for elections. The rebels agreed to hand over the northern town of Kidal and by August 2013, France formally transferred responsibility for security in the north to the United Nations (UN).

After the peace agreement, most of the displaced population returned to their northern lands, including many Christians, but found most of their homes and property destroyed or looted by the extremist Muslim terrorists.

Persecution in Bamako

Insecurity and a resurge of terror attacks in 2015 has again forced massive flows of Christians back to Bamako. While the capital offers a safer haven from immediate danger, brothers and sisters still face hardship trying to make ends meet.

“We are now living here in Bamako where we continue to be victim[s] of social exclusion that make[s] life harder for us,” Moctar said.

As sojourners in a distant city, far away from their northern homes, Christians continue to struggle to find work and their Christian identity hampers them with a social handicap, which causes lack of opportunity.

“In this current Islamic assault and Islamic terrorism turning this country into a no peace ground,” Francois* told ICC.

The current persecution situation in Mali leaves Christians choosing between physical danger and economic hardship as they seek to walk with Jesus faithfully in the midst of suffering.

“I have terribly escaped from an Islamic kidnapping as they are being sent by my fanatic Islamic family to take me away and behead me, literally. Islamic jihadists came round to kidnap me [and] I fortunately was not there, but they kidnapped someone else thinking I was the one and beheaded this innocent man in my place,” Francois said.

Through it all, Francois learns lessons about what Jesus promised. Not only did Christ guarantee that Christians would suffer for following Jesus, but Francois can delight in the knowledge that Christ has also died innocently in his place to provide him spiritual salvation.

*False names used for security

For interviews Please Contact Troy Augustine, Regional Manager for Africa: rm-africa@persecution.org

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