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1/24/23 Mauritania (International Christian Concern) – Earlier last week, Rashad Hussain, the United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, traveled to Mauritania to meet with several African leaders. Hussain’s meetings with Mauritanian President Mohamed Cheikh El Ghazouani and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari were of notable interest. While meeting with these leaders, Hussain raised a number of human rights and security concerns, one being the threat of violent extremism in the region and the need to protect vulnerable people groups from this harm.  

In recent years, Nigeria has become a breeding ground for violent insurgent groups and terrorism. While religious, ethnic, and economic tensions have always been present, these tensions have increasingly become radicalized and used as the basis for targeted attacks against vulnerable people groups, including religious minorities. Since the uprising of terrorist group Boko Haram in 2009, some estimate that upwards of 45,000 Christians have been murdered for their faith; an additional 30,000 moderate Muslims have also been targeted and killed. These violent attacks continue to occur without an adequate response from the Nigerian government, making Nigeria one of the most dangerous places to live as a religious minority.   

In Mauritania, al-Qaeda-affiliated and other jihadist groups target religious minorities near the eastern border regions. Additionally, Christians who convert from Islam face extreme societal pressure and are routinely attacked by radical family members and extremists in the community. Mauritania is also 1 of 7 countries that maintain the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy cases. Although the government has never applied this penalty for those specific crimes, the provision’s very existence sends a message that the beliefs of religious minorities are not protected.  

Ambassador Hussain’s visit with these high-level officials clearly comes at a critical time. Without continued pressure from the international community, the atrocities committed at the hands of violent extremist groups are only projected to increase. The United States must remain a global leader in the advancement of religious freedom, or the reality for persecuted Christians will continue to decline as a result of our contempt.  

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