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Christians in Congo face growing violence from Islamic extremists

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EASTERN CONGO (BP) – Spiraling Islamic terrorism that has killed more than 100 people in a two-week span in the Democratic Republic of Congo is calling renewed attention to Christian persecution there.

The terrorist group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is blamed for the deaths in at least three attacks in late December and early January in efforts to establish a Muslim caliphate in the mostly Christian country, Open Doors reported.

“The killing of innocent civilians on an almost daily basis is an underreported tragedy,” Open Doors senior analyst Illia Djadi said after the attacks spanning Dec. 31-Jan. 14. “It is a reminder of what is happening in other parts of the central Sahel region.”

Djadi compares the violence to that spreading across the Sahel region of northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram and related extremists are blamed for 37,500 deaths since 2011, according to a new report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

“Think of groups like Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria for example,” said Djadi, who covers freedom of religion or belief in Sub-Saharan Africa for Open Doors. “The ideology, the agenda of establishing a ‘caliphate’ in the region, and the way they operate is the same, and we can see how they afflict terrible suffering on innocent people.”

ADF has been active in Congo for decades, but its expansion led Open Doors to include Congo for the first time this year on its World Watch List of the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians. Congo, which is 95 percent Christian, debuted at number 40, mainly ranked for violence, persecution against churches and social persecution against Muslims to convert to Christianity.

“The attacks from the ADF and other militant groups in the DRC are why violence is a huge risk for the Christian population and churches in the regions where militants are active,” Open Doors said in its 2021 Watch List. “The violence has resulted in more than a million internally displaced people. Additionally, followers of Jesus are at risk for kidnappings and having their homes destroyed.”

ADF attacks have reportedly increased since authorities launched an offensive against the group in October 2019. In the latest attacks in Congo, the ADF is blamed for killing 46 members of the Pygmy ethnic group in Ituri province on Jan. 14, 22 civilians in an overnight raid on the village of Mwenda on Jan. 4, 17 residents of a nearby village the previous week, and 25 people in the village of Tingwe on Dec. 31, Open Doors said. ADF used guns and machetes.

The U.N. has said the ADF is connected to a network of jihadists across Africa. Unlike Boko Haram, the ADF has not linked itself to the Islamic State group (ISIS), but ISIS has begun to claim responsibility for ADF attacks.

ADF, Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) are broadly accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. In its latest report, USCIRF said there is reasonable evidence that Boko Haram and the ISWAP have committed such crimes, and recommends regional approaches to fighting such violence.

“Regional approaches continue to put pressure on violent jihadist groups operating in this region, primarily through military operations. However, militant Islamist groups in Nigeria demonstrate remarkable staying power and threaten to coopt and ‘Islamize’ other violent conflicts in Nigeria and throughout the region,” USCIRF said. “Thus, these groups will likely continue to pose threats to religious freedom in Nigeria and elsewhere in the future if efforts do not adapt to address the challenges facing the current approach.”