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Burkina Faso’s insecurity persists

International | Christians and other groups face continuous attacks from extremist groups
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 11/05/19, 03:29 pm

Suspected extremists in Burkina Faso targeted passengers traveling on the highway between the capital city of Ouagadougou and the northern town of Djibo in September. The insurgents separated Christians from Muslims and asked the Christians to pay jizyaa tax for non-Muslims in a Muslim territory—worth $34, according to Edward Clancy, director of outreach with Aid to the Church in Need.

Despite the country’s history of religious tolerance, insurgent attacks against Christians and other locals have increased in the impoverished northern region of Burkina Faso, a landlocked West African nation. Aid groups active in the country continue to raise concerns about the violence, which they say reminds them of the start of the terror group Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria.

On Oct. 28, armed extremists stormed the northern village of Pobe-Mengao and killed 16 people after villagers refused to help them buy weapons. Earlier in the month, several unconnected assaults over four days left at least 19 people dead.

Attacks have killed more than 500 people since last year and displaced nearly 500,000 others, the United Nations reported. The conflict has shut down more than 2,000 schools in the region, leaving 330,000 children without access to education. As many as 68 hospitals that served more than 800,00 people also closed.

Burkina Faso’s porous borders with conflict-hit Mali and Niger have granted access to groups such as the Macina Liberation Front, the al-Qaeda-linked Jama’t Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimin, and Islamic State. In September, Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack in the northern Soum province that killed 24 Burkinabe soldiers.

In a statement released at the end of September, the Burkinese Federation of Evangelical Churches and Missions listed at least five pastors and missionaries murdered by terrorists. “The terrorist groups are trying to weaken the values of unity, solidarity, secularism, and social cohesion that are the foundations of Burkinabe society,” the statement read.

Philip Matheny, the missions director with the U.S.-based Sheltering Wings mission group, said the unrest also has affected how Christian aid workers operate in the country. “Many have benefitted from security training, which has been informative on how to lower their risk as well as the risk of the national partners with whom they work,” he wrote.

Locals reported more than 200 church closures in the northern part of the country due to the unrest, said Illia Djadi, a senior analyst with Open Doors. Like Boko Haram, he said, the Burkina Faso insurgent groups target symbols of the state, including security officials and schools, while also attacking those considered moderate Muslims. During Friday prayers on Oct. 11, militants attacked a mosque in the northern village of Salmossi and killed at least 16 people.

In response, self-defense groups and militias are rising up. The Assessment Capacities Project, a Norwegian nonprofit organization providing international humanitarian analysis, said last week it expects the conflict to worsen over the next six months.

Associated Press/Photo by Vincent Thian (file) Associated Press/Photo by Vincent Thian (file) Member of the Royal Malaysian Police Special Tactical Unit takes part in a drill in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Bracing for ISIS retaliation

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death is not the end of Islamic State (ISIS), especially in Southeast Asian strongholds.

Authorities in Indonesia and Malaysia are on alert for potential retaliatory attacks, and the Philippines anticipates an influx of ISIS loyalists, the South China Morning Post reported. Already this year, Indonesia detained hundreds of suspects under stricter anti-terrorism laws. Officials believe ISIS ideology has inspired thousands of Indonesians.

“It is a war. Usually, there must be a counterattack or the like,” Indonesian intelligence agency spokesman Wawan Purwanto told Reuters. “When it comes to security, we are sure that we will secure this country.”

Royal Malaysian Police counterterrorism official Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said past terror attacks there have come from “lone wolves” and the “self-radicalized.”

“As long as the ISIS ideology is not eliminated, as long as other groups who adhere to the Salafi jihadi ideology are not eliminated, the threat of terror will remain,” he added. —Julia A. Seymour

iStock/Wachiwit iStock/Wachiwit WhatsApp on an iPhone

Caught snooping

The social messaging firm WhatsApp filed a lawsuit last week against an Israeli company it accused of hacking into the phones of 1,400 users for surveillance purposes.

The social media firm said NSO Group exploited its video calling system to send malware to users’ devices, allowing it “to access messages and other communications after they were decrypted on target devices.” The malware targeted 1,400 users in 20 countries over two weeks, beginning at the end of April. The users included prominent religious figures, journalists, and human rights workers.

In a complaint filed in California, WhatsApp asked for a permanent court order to prevent NSO from accessing WhatsApp computer systems and those of its parent company, Facebook. NSO Group has said it will defend itself against the accusations. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Manish Swarup Associated Press/Photo by Manish Swarup Volunteers alert the public to heightened air pollution restrictions on Monday in New Delhi.

India battles high pollution levels

New Delhi shut down schools and banned construction work for at least three days last week after the air quality level dropped to the “severe plus” category. The Environment Pollution Authority declared a public health emergency on Friday and ordered the closure of coal-based industries, excluding power plants. On Sunday, the city’s international airport delayed and diverted some flights because of the thick smog.

India’s capital city experiences a seasonal drop in its air quality in October and November each year due to agricultural stubble burning and firecrackers from the Hindu festival of lights celebration, known as Diwali. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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