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HORROR: Kenyan soldier stands next to a victim inside the Westgate Mall.
Nichole Sobecki/AFP/Getty Images
HORROR: Kenyan soldier stands next to a victim inside the Westgate Mall.

An effective extinction?

Terrorism | A month of deadly violence by Islamic terrorists aims to wipe out Christian communities

Issue: "Rethinking the death penalty," Oct. 19, 2013

When journalist Jeffrey Goldberg calls September “a banner month for Islamic militants,” he knows what he’s talking about. Goldberg has covered jihadists from Afghanistan to Gaza, and before he was a war correspondent served as a guard over Palestinian terrorists at an Israeli prison camp. 

September saw repeated high-profile attacks by Islamic terrorists—with high percentage rates of casualties—from central Asia across the Middle East and down into Africa, including attacks in West Africa (Nigeria), North Africa (Libya), and East Africa (Kenya).

To underscore an alarming, almost apocalyptic trend, British historian Tom Holland, speaking at a London gathering Sept. 19, said of the rise in jihadist violence: “In terms of the sheer scale of the hatreds and sectarian rivalries, we are witnessing something on the scale of horror of the European Thirty Years War. … It is the climax of a process grinding its way through the 20th century—the effective extinction of Christianity from its birthplace.”

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Muslims are victims of terrorist attacks, too. But wiping out Christians and targeting the West are chief ends. Terrorists who struck the Westgate Mall in Nairobi on Sept. 21 took time to identify and separate Muslim shoppers before killing others. The mall is a popular site for Westerners living in Nairobi, itself a hub for international aid and mission work in East Africa. And Kenya is over 82 percent Christian.

“This attack has felt closer to home than even the embassy attack of 1998,” said Mike Delorenzo, a pilot with Africa Inland Mission (AIM) based in Nairobi. “This is a place we are familiar with. A place we take our kids to on their birthday, or have a business lunch with a coworker. I was just sitting on the terrace of Urban Burger a few weeks back with my daughter … the restaurant was turned over and bloodied while the music still played in the background. Surreal.”

Kenyan forces took nine suspects into custody after the four-day siege at the mall and say they killed five, as images of the destruction published 10 days after the attack showed the deadly force of Somali-based al-Shabaab militants, and the Kenyan military’s response.

That same weekend Pakistani Christians faced their worst attack in the country’s history, as two suicide bombers—each wearing vests loaded with 13 pounds of explosives and ball bearings—blew themselves up outside All Saints Church in Peshawar, killing at least 89 and wounding more than 150. But worshippers returned to the church on Monday to pray and sing despite the danger. 

A bloody month for victims of terrorism in Nigeria went less noticed. In Yobe State Boko Haram militants killed a Catholic pastor and his two children on Sept. 26. The next day militants struck again at predominantly Christian villages—burning 17 homes in Barawa along with two nearby churches and killing Sunday Tuffa, a pastor—in nearby Borno state, where Boko Haram is based.

“The fresh violence on Christians raises doubts about the success of the state of emergency imposed on three northeastern states in May,” said Mark Lipdo, director of Stefanos Foundation, a watchdog group that tracks violence in predominantly Islamic northern Nigeria, where terrorists aim to rout Christians. Many villagers who lost their homes fled to neighboring Cameroon as attacks continued, said Lipdo. Another attack took place on Oct. 1, with vehicles and over 50 homes set ablaze, and one man reportedly killed. 

Boko Haram also took responsibility for a weekend attack on the College of Agriculture—also in Yobe State—where gunmen killed about 65 students as they slept in dormitories in the early Sunday morning hours of Sept. 29. Nearby, in an attack on a local market in Kerawa, gunmen used IEDs and gas-fueled bombs to kill at least nine. The attacks are part of an Islamic uprising that gained strength in the spring, forcing Nigeria’s government to declare a state of emergency in Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa states. But security forces have been inept and the violence grows more barbaric. Boko Haram fighters have tied villagers to trucks and dragged them to their deaths, chased students into forests then gunned them down, and burned Christian families in their homes.

Mark Durie, an Anglican pastor and associate fellow at the Middle East Forum, said these pogroms aren’t unprecedented: “It is the history of Armenia, of Egypt, of Andalusia, of Egypt, or the Balkans.” But it’s fueled by an Islamic revival he says is “erupting” in violence against the infidel, “fueled by the anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, and anti-infidel verses in the Quran and the Hadith.” Part of the fruit of the revival, he said, is so many similar attacks at the same time.

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