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Global terrorism: Christianity is the target

2 December 2016

The latest edition of the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) has just been published surveying terrorist incidents in 2015. The trends that the GTI identifies – and our analysis of their implications for Christians are:

  • The number of deaths from terrorism around the world fell by 10% last year to 29,376, although this was still the second worst year on record and nearly nine times higher than in the year before the 9/11 attacks (3,329). As we recently observed, in the 15 years since 9/11 there has been a massive escalation in the persecution of Christians worldwide and one which could quite literally wipe out entire Christian communities in parts of the Middle East, where Christianity has existed since the first century AD.
  • The decline in the number of deaths from terrorism is mainly due to Boko Haram in West Africa and Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East being weakened by military actions against them. Both groups have been carrying out what is effectively a genocide against Christians seeking to religiously cleanse non-Muslims from these regions.
  • However, both groups have expanded to other countries – Boko Haram to Niger, Cameroon and Chad where they have been targeting Christians. Islamic State and its affiliates became active in 15 new countries bringing the total in 2015 to 28. This included the emergence of IS in Libya which in February 2015 beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians, then in April killed 30 Ethiopian Christians – justifying these actions by claiming that the Christians had refused to either convert to Islam or pay jizya. These actions have continued this year with IS beheading a South Sudanese Christian in Libya in October. Meanwhile the emergence of an Islamic State affiliate carrying out terrorist attacks in Egypt’s Sinai province led to Christians fleeing the area in 2015. In June this year IS gunned down a Christian minister as he returned home after a church service in the region.  
  • The number of terrorist related deaths in developed countries rose last year to 577, a massive increase on the 77 the previous year.  More than half of these deaths were due to IS which appears to be shifting its focus to transnational terrorism. In 2015 Barnabas Fund warned that churches in the West would be attacked by jihadists such as Islamic State – just as they were in the Middle East and parts of Africa. In fact we organised a conference to help churches understand how to protect themselves. At the time we were accused of scaremongering. Yet it is now clear that IS is very much focused on attacking the West and in July this year jihadists claiming allegiance to Islamic State attacked a French church murdering the priest while he conducted worship. It is highly likely that the pattern of attacks on churches that we have seen in the Middle East and Africa for several years now will continue to spread to the West.
  • As in 2014, around three quarters (72%) of all deaths from terrorism were in just five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria. In four of these five countries (Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria) Christians are one of the main targets of terrorist violence.
  • In 2015 Pakistan actually saw a decrease in the number of deaths from terrorism, although the Global Terrorism Index attributes this at least in part to infighting within the Tehrik–i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The TTP have carried out a significant number of attacks on Churches and Christians in Pakistan including the bombing of All Saints Church in Peshawar in 2013 which killed more than 80 and injured 120. Even in their disorganised state in 2015, the Pakistani Taliban still carried out attacks on Christians, including bombing two churches in Lahore killing 16 and injuring over 60. This year they were responsible for the bombing of Lahore’s Gulshan-i-Iqbal park where Christian families were celebrating Easter Sunday, killing at least 74 and injuring an estimated 370 others. It therefore appears that attacks on Christians in Pakistan look set to continue their horrific trajectory.
  • 74% of all deaths from terrorism were due to four terrorist organisations: Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Taliban and al Qaeda. The common factor is that all are Islamist groups who have declared a jihad against non-Muslims, of which Christians are often the main target. Their aim is to impose strict Islamic government with shari’a enforcement which includes forcing Christians to either leave the area, convert to Islam or in the case of Islamic State – accept dhimmitude.