On Wednesday, two female suicide bombers attacked the Nigerien border town of Diffa and bands of jihadists conducted raids, as Boko Haram continues to extend its rampage outside of Nigeria into neighboring countries. In Niger, there is growing concern over the spread of Islamic extremism, resulting in violent attacks, as well as a growing anti-Christian sentiment.
Father Mauro Armanino, a Genoese missionary of the Society of African Missions working in Niger, said that there is growing anxiety over the encroachment of Islamist militants in the area. “The timing of the attack causes concern,” he said. “It occurred shortly before the meeting of the National Assembly to decide on the participation of Nigerien troops in the operations against Boko Haram in Nigeria.”
Armanino said that the real news is the extent of the unrest and the fury with which the crowd acted, “evidence of a growing feeling of anti-Christianity, which cannot be disregarded in the future.”
The missionary said that recently, Islamist preaching is growing ever more aggressive, fed by radical ideas coming from Saudi Arabia and buttressed with money and aid from Qatar. The border zone is one of the poorest areas of Niger. “The teachings of the Islamic universities, the influence of neighboring Nigeria and the emptiness of the future have generated an explosive mixture,” he said.
Armanino said that Islam in Niger has been based on Sufism, but is moving toward a more radicalized and violent form, in part because of a social situation that has left “thousands of young people with no future.” Islam in Niger, he said, “is conditioned by the preaching and the money of those who have an extremist view of religion.”
“Those young people are attracted by other offers, by other opportunities for work which are those offered by Boko Haram,” said Souley Adji of the University of Niamey. “They may be diabolical offers, but without having a stable job, there is no choice for them. They have to go the way of the devil.”
Father Armanino said that there is growing concern among the people. “The attacks of Boko Haram are grafted into a feeling of growing intolerance toward the presence of anyone outside of a particular form of Islam.”
After the jihadist assault on Diffa, the Parliament of Niamey has, nevertheless, given the green light for the participation of Nigerien troops in a regional coalition army created by Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Benin to combat the Islamist movement.
Boko Haram is working to create its own Caliphate around Lake Chad, which borders Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger.
Meanwhile, thousands have fled Diffa, trying to get as far away from Boko Haram as possible. “We know that many people are fleeing from Diffa to Zinder and then, presumably, on to the capital Niamey,” said Armanino.
Father Armanino also notes the complicity of the Nigerien government in anti-Christian violence, saying that Christians, in some way, “have been sacrificed on the altar of political interests.” Referring to the recent burning of Christian churches, he says that it is impossible that “in all those hours the churches burned, there was not a single intervention of the fire department.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.