In two days of targeted riots that began on 16 January, violence across Niger has left ten people dead and over 70 churches are reported to have been destroyed. The rioters were protesting against the publication of a cartoon of Muhammad on the front cover of the French Charlie Hebdo magazine. More riots and protests occurred across many Muslim-majority countries, including many former French colonies.
Following Friday prayers on 16 January, hundreds of mainly young Muslim extremists took to the streets in Zinder, Niger’s second largest city, burning and destroying all of the city’s churches, as well as the homes of Christians.
The next day, more than 55 churches, pastors’ homes, Christian schools and Christian organisations were burned or destroyed in the capital city, Niamey, as rioters targeted Christians and French-related businesses.
Ten people have been killed in the weekend attacks, one of whom was burned inside a church. And more than 200 Christian families are now being housed in military camps. The army has been deployed and the homes of Christians have been identified and secured. With the authorities overwhelmed by the scale of the violence, Christians have been told to stay together, just in case.
“The situation is currently extremely unstable despite assurances from the authorities,” says a Barnabas Fund partner in Niger. “Churches have not been placed under police protection despite assurances from the Ministry of Security yesterday…We are really scared.”
Large-scale protests have also taken place in Pakistan, the Philippines, and Chechnya. Capital cities in Algeria, Somalia, Sudan, Jordan, Mali, Senegal, and Mauritania have also witnessed protests against the publication. Twelve people who were working at the Paris offices of the magazine were killed by two masked gunmen on 7 January and the magazine then went on to publish a cartoon of Muhammad on the front cover of its next issue on 13 January.