2013 was a rough year for Christians in Mali. Previously unranked on Open Doors top 50 countries that persecute Christians, Mali shot up to number 8 in just one year. This dramatic change developed when Islamic extremist took control of the northern regions of the country and threatened to take over the entire country. Until the French military intervened, many Christians feared that the entire country would be unsafe for Christianity. Although things have calmed down, Christians continue to suffer.
12/27/2013 Mali (USA Today) – Noel Somboro is a man known for his quick smile and frequent jokes, but when he’s asked about Christmas, a worried, sad look spreads across his face.
That’s because in Mali, where Muslims represent about 80% of the population, Somboro, 45, a Christian, is worried about attacks on his community.
“In Mali, there haven’t been attacks on Christians recently, but we are paying attention because there are many suicide bombings, and violence is ongoing in the north of the country,” says Somboro, who is from the northern region.
As Mali’s Christian communities prepared to celebrate Christmas, they remembered the terrorist attacks — including the destruction of churches — that triggered French military intervention a year ago.
French soldiers are due to withdraw from the West African country by the end of the year, and many worry the risk of new Islamist attacks could rise. Militants have stepped up attacks in recent months, killing several U.N. troops in a car bomb attack Dec. 15 in the northern city of Kidal.
Al-Qaeda-linked groups working with ethnic Tuareg rebels took over Kidal, one of the three largest cities in the north, in 2012. There and elsewhere, militants imposed Sharia law, terrorized locals and targeted Christians.
As a result, Christians hid with Muslim families before fleeing south, recalls Oumar Cisse, who used to live in Timbuktu, another northern city seized by militants.
“Local people protected the Christians because they had lived peacefully next to each other for decades,” Cisse says. “They became friends and in some cases, family.”
French troops chased out the militants, but Christians haven’t felt safe enough to return, especially as the armed groups try to make a comeback. As a result, many in cities such as Timbuktu say they feel a void.
“Many schools and health centers were run by Christian missionaries,” Somboro says.
The Malian government is trying to create a “truth and reconciliation” commission to bring communities together. This body would be charged with investigating attacks on minorities and making proposals for reparations, especially regarding religious buildings and cultural monuments that were destroyed.