ISIS In Africa (Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Mozambique): Targeting Christians – Killing, Beheading, Murdering Priests And Nuns, Burning Churches, Health Clinics, And Homes – As The World Is Largely Silent – WARNING: GRAPHIC ‎CONTENT

By: Steven Stalinsky, Ph.D., R. Sosnow, A. Smith, K. Choukry, Matt Schierer, N. Mozes, Y. Kerman, G. Pacchiani, and Y. Kulka*
June 16, 2023
By: Steven Stalinsky, Ph.D., R. Sosnow, A. Smith, K. Choukry, Matt Schierer, N. Mozes, Y. Kerman, G. Pacchiani, and Y. Kulka*

Table of Contents

  • Preface by MEMRI Vice President Amb. Alberto Fernandez: "Christians Bleeding" – The Jihadi War Against Africa's Christians

  • Background: Islamic Religious Punishments In Iraq And Syria, The Emergence Of ISIS, And The Dissemination Of Images, Videos Via U.S.-Based Social Media

  • Introduction: ISIS Attacks On Christians Across Africa 2022-2023 – And Their Similarity To ISIS Attacks And Islamic Punishments In Its Caliphate 2013-2016

  • Statements By Officials On Jihad Attacks In Africa

  • Timeline of ISIS Activities in Africa 2022-2023

  • Locations Of Attacks 2022-23

  • Summaries of Trends

  • Islamic State Violence Against Christians In Africa In 2022-2023

  • ISIS And Pro-ISIS Media Outlets On Attacking Christians In Africa

Preface by MEMRI Vice President Amb. Alberto Fernandez: "Christians Bleeding" – The Jihadi War Against Africa's Christians

It is a sad reality that in our very wide, diverse, and heavily populated world, not all news is treated the same. The passions and controversies of the West, especially those of the United States of America, consume much of the world's media bandwidth. In 2020, Europeans were perhaps shocked to see angry demonstrations on their streets because an American policeman in the distant state of Minnesota killed a suspect. The foreign enthusiasms of the West also get banner coverage worldwide. If Ukraine becomes the great Western cause of the moment, then all the world is expected to follow along.

Africa has occasionally gotten this Western attention, usually for limited periods of time. The years 1983-1984 saw Band Aid, triggered by the famine in Ethiopia. Twenty years ago, Save Darfur was briefly a thing among the chattering classes in the West. Eleven years ago, Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) warlord Joseph Kony became a thing even more briefly, as a slick American social media campaign sought to bring him to justice. The video produced for it garnered over a hundred million views on YouTube and was the first video to ever receive a million "likes." Kony is reportedly still alive, last reputed to be in Sudan, but no one talks about him anymore.

But just because the West ignores a reality doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. There was a time when the jihadi terrorist group Islamic State, or ISIS, was on the front pages, with spectacular acts of mayhem not only in the Middle East but in Europe and elsewhere. But after a string of military reverses, and especially after ISIS lost its last major stronghold in Syria in the spring of 2019, it too seemed to drop from the headlines.  

However, neither ISIS nor Al-Qaeda are done; nor is Salafi-jihadism in general. They have found new pastures in Africa, especially along those geographic fault lines that divide the continent's majority Muslim-populated regions from its Christian population. Like a bloody scarlet thread, this line stretches across West Africa into the middle of Nigeria and then into Central Africa, until reaching the Indian Ocean coast from Somalia to Mozambique. As always, jihadism takes advantage of local fissures and on the ground realities – ethnic conflict, land grabs, government corruption and incompetence – but a pillar of the ideology is the slaughter of Christians.

The January 2022 issue of the ISIS weekly "Al-Naba" featured an article titled "Christians Bleeding," and a pro-ISIS propaganda Telegram channel boasted later of the establishment of a new ISIS province in Mozambique built "on heaps of Christian corpses and rivers of their blood."

MEMRI's new, lengthy, and detailed report on ISIS in Africa's targeting of Christians is grim, if essential reading, done with MEMRI's characteristic comprehensiveness. What we have here is a steady, slow-motion, constant campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing, waged one village and ramshackle church and peasant family at a time. The result is devastating and horrific in its scope when this mass of individual outrages is collated, analyzed, and translated in one place, as we have here.

And as devastating as this report is, the situation is even worse, given that there have been other actions targeting African Christians from ISIS's rivals in Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabab, in addition to the permanent campaign of targeted killings and burning carried out by Islamist Fulani militias in countries like Nigeria.

This report focuses on ISCAP (ISIS's Central African Province), ISWAP (Boko Haram in Nigeria and neighboring countries) and ISMP (ISIS in Mozambique) which are main perpetrators. But they are not the only ones.

The killing mechanism is no doubt influenced by local circumstances, but even more so influenced by radical ideology. The extremist narrative is that these – local Christians – are the people who can be killed and targeted with impunity. Nigeria alone has the phenomenon of almajiri boys, children given over by their families to be raised and indoctrinated by primitive religious schools teaching rote memorization of the Qur'an and nothing else. These schoolboys are expected to beg in the streets for their upkeep. The result is a large pool of destitute, alienated, and ignorant boys seen as fit only for menial work, gangs, or jihad.

In 2012, the National Council for the Welfare of the Destitute in Nigeria estimated that there were about seven million almajiri boys in Northern Nigeria. Many may not even become jihadi gunmen, but will become part of a permanent disenfranchised underclass that can be weaponized by crooked politicians, criminal networks, and extremist organizations. And this is not unique to Nigeria, but is a situation existing throughout much of West and Central Africa.

ISIS videos in 2022 not only gloried in the killing of Christians and the destruction of their property and churches, but also in showing kidnapped Christian villagers being forcibly converted to Islam. Our adversary sees this campaign in ideological, Islamic supremacist terms most of all.

African Christians are in a sense doubly stigmatized. Their suffering is minimized in the eyes of most of the West because they are both Africans and Christians, two categories that can be easily ignored by our enlightened elites more interested in promoting the latest fashionable progressive ideologies.

But with talk of Africa becoming a higher priority for the U.S. as a result of intensifying great power competition, it is important to understand the full scope and ramifications of this bloody campaign. Certainly, the longer it continues, the greater possibility exists of the full ethnicization of these conflicts which could further fracture already stressed states and societies. What ISIS did to religious minorities in the Middle East it is seeking to do on a continent where Islam and Christianity are relatively equally matched. The potential result is pouring oil on a simmering fire.

This comprehensive MEMRI report should be a wake-up call, not only about the military and security dimensions of the conflict in Africa that are too easily ignored, but about the ideological and cultural elements of this struggle. Only by understanding this crisis fully can we hope to address it successfully.

Ambassador (ret.) Alberto M. Fernandez
Vice President
Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)
Washington, D.C.

Background: With Its Islamic Religious Punishments In Its Caliphate In Iraq And Syria And Its Showcasing Of These Atrocities On Social Media, ISIS Set The Stage For Its Slaughter Of Christians Today In Africa – In Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Nigeria, And Mozambique

Since their inception, the Islamic State (ISIS) and groups such as the onetime Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN), as well as other Al-Qaeda affiliates and offshoots, have used U.S.-based social media services as a vital tool to advance their goals – indeed, these social media have served them as a vital tool in their propaganda efforts. ISIS has used Twitter, YouTube, and other U.S.-based services to effectively strike fear into the hearts of both their enemies and of the residents of regions already under their control, with graphic images of beheadings, crucifixions, floggings, and other Islamic punishments.

The following report on ISIS's targeting of Christians in Africa highlights how the organization is continuing to use social media to disseminate images and videos of attacks it carries out across the regions that it controls through its branches there: Islamic State Central African Province (ISCAP), Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and Islamic State-Mozambique (ISMP).

Islamic Punishments Across The ISIS Caliphate 2013-2016

The Islamic punishments carried out by ISIS in Iraq and Syria were often handed down by local Islamic courts, with Quran passages cited as justification. They were widely implemented against minorities, including Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and homosexuals, as well as against members, or suspected members, of rival jihadi groups, of Syrian regime forces, of Hizbullah, and of Iranian armed forces, and against local citizens. Ample evidence of these punishments was being shared and circulated via these group's official accounts on social media platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, and others. These images were also circulated by individual members and supporters of these groups, pro-Syrian regime elements, anti-regime elements, and others worldwide.

In January 2016, MEMRI published an in-depth report on this activity, after documenting it for over three years – see ISIS's Use Of Twitter, Other U.S. Social Media To Disseminate Images, Videos Of Islamic Religious Punishments – Beheading, Crucifixion, Stoning, Burning, Drowning, Throwing From Buildings – Free Speech?

Many times, these punishments were carried out in public in front of crowds of onlookers. The crowds often include children, and the events are used as indoctrination and instruction for the children. ISIS media releases feature many foreign fighters, particularly Europeans, carrying out these beheadings.

Beginning In 2014, Twitter, YouTube Terms Of Service Specifically Banned Publishing Of Graphic Violence

Major social media outlets' terms of service specifically prohibited the use of their services for sharing content such as the images and videos of beheadings, executions, amputations, floggings, and more that these jihadi groups posted. It should be noted that prior to ISIS's beheading of American photojournalist James Foley in August 2014 and the posting of the video of the beheading on YouTube and of images from it on Twitter, these and other social media companies did little or nothing to remove such content – even though it violated their own terms of service.

October 2013: ISIS Announces The New Islamic Law Of The Land

Executions and other death sentences, as well as amputations and floggings and the offenses for which they are implemented, were laid out in detail in the ISIS stronghold of Al-Raqqa, Syria in an October 2013 ISIS video disseminated via social media. As reported by the Lebanese Al-Jadeed TV, in a video, the "Islamic State in Iraq and Sham... recently issued a statement in Al-Raqqa showing prohibitions (Islamic laws) and offenses punishable by flogging [first] and end[ing] with death."

December 2014: (ISIS) Publishes Penal Code, Says It Will Be Vigilantly Enforced

On December 15, 2014, a document detailing the ISIS penal code was released on the Jihadi Media Platform forum ( Titled "Clarification [regarding] the Hudud [Quranic punishments]," it listed crimes and their respective shari'a punishments. ISIS said that it was publishing the document as a warning and a reminder to the people living under its rule, and reiterated its commitment to be vigilant in its enforcement.

The document began with various Quranic verses emphasizing the need for Muslims to adhere to the shari'a, noting that those who do not are considered unbelievers.

The crimes and punishments listed included:

  • Blasphemy against Allah: Death

  • Blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad: Death - even if the accuser repents

  • Blasphemy against Islam: Death

  • Adultery: Stoning to death if the adulterer was married and 100 lashes and exile if he or she were unmarried.

  • Sodomy (homosexuality): Death for the person committing the act, as well as for the one receiving it.

  • Theft: Hand amputation

  • Drinking alcohol: 80 lashes

  • Slander: 80 lashes

  • Spying for the unbelievers: Death

  • Apostasy: Death

  • Banditry:

    • Murder and stealing: Death and crucifixion

    • Murder only: Death

    • Stealing (as part of banditry): Cutting off the right hand and the left leg

    • Terrorizing people: Exile.

Introduction: With Beheading, Killing, Torching And Vandalizing Churches, And Enslavement, ISIS Is Attempting To Eradicate Christians Across Africa 2022-2023 – As It Tried To Do In Its Caliphate 2014 -2016

As noted, during the peak of its Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, from 2013 to 2016, in the areas it controlled, the Islamic State (ISIS) carried out widespread atrocities – beheading, crucifixion, slaughter – against Christians and other minorities such as Yazidis, Kurds, and homosexuals,[1] with the aim of eradicating these communities. It used Twitter, YouTube, and other U.S.-based social media services to disseminate photos and videos of these atrocities as a vital tool, not only to promote the organization and its goals but to strike fear into the hearts of both their enemies and of the residents of regions already under their control, with graphic images and videos of beheadings, crucifixions, floggings, and other Islamic punishments, as well as enslavement.

Today, across Africa, ISIS's branches in Africa – Islamic State Central African Province (ISCAP), Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and Islamic State-Mozambique (ISMP) – are attacking and terrorizing Christians across the continent, killing civilians, destroying churches, kidnapping Christians for ransom, forcing conversions, taking slaves, and destroying symbols and signs of Christianity. These ISIS groups are also documenting these attacks, publishing detailed descriptions and photos and videos of them on their media outlets as well as on social media platforms. Though the platforms are different, the aim is the same – to intimidate and to terrify both those under their control and their enemies.

The level of detail provided about the attacks varies. Some posts specify that the Christians were killed using machine guns, or following attacks on military targets; others say that the Christian victims were beheaded. Information about destruction of vehicles is usually provided, for example, that they were "burned." The majority of posts merely state that a specific number of Christians were "killed." For example, a March 13, 2023 post states that ISCAP fighters had "surrounded the city of Beni" in eastern DRC, "capturing and killing more than 30 Christians,"[2] and another marks the group's celebration of its March 8, 2023 killing of 35 Christians and wounding more in an attack on a Christian village in the North Kivu region of the DRC.[3]

ISIS poster praising the killing of 35 Christians in attack on Christian village in North Kivu, DRC, along with a quote by the late ISIS spokesman Abu Al-Hasan Al-Muhajir praising ISIS fighters as "taller than the mountains, braver than lions" – March 10, 2023

Enslavement Is One More ISIS Method Of Eliminating Minority Communities

During its caliphate in Iraq and Syria, ISIS's ideology also included enslaving Yazidis, Christians, and others in its territory, In late 2014, the Research and Fatwa Department of the Islamic State released a pamphlet on the topic of female captives and slaves (see MEMRI JTTM report Sex Slavery In The Islamic State – Practices, Social Media Discourse, And Justifications; Jabhat Al-Nusra: ISIS Is Taking Our Women As Sex Slaves Too, August 17, 2015).

Likewise, in April 2023, there were allegations about a June 2022 report sent by ISCAP in the DRC to ISIS's Office for the Administration of Remote Provinces detailing spoils seized by ISCAP in "warfare, displacement, banditry, and highway robbery" in "Christian" areas. The spoils listed in the report included "the following human beings [that] were obtained": 14 slave girls, 21 slave boys, and 24 slave women, in addition to 13 children.

The regions of Africa under ISIS control, like many parts of Iraq and Syria under the Caliphate were, are largely undeveloped. This is evident from the posted photos of attacks in Africa, which  show mostly wooden buildings, with some of mud and others of stone and a few of concrete, with tin or thatched roofs, next to dirt roads in wooded settings.

The information in these posts comes largely from ISIS media outlets such as 'Amaq News Agency, Al-Furqan Foundation, and the Al-Naba' weekly. It is disseminated largely via pro-ISIS channels on Telegram, such as Al-Tamkin News, Al-Khalafa News, and Nashir News. The posts include announcements of attacks with details of the damage caused and numbers of killed and wounded, as well as photos, videos, and posters. A weekly feature is a poster from Al-Naba' summarizing the previous week's attacks and kills in infographic form.

Killing Christians – ISIS In Iraq And Syria, ISIS In Africa

While the majority of ISIS's murder victims in Iraq and Syria were Muslims, the per-capita rate of Christians killed was very high.[4] They were systematically murdered as unbelievers; their killing was later termed genocide against a religious minority by the U.S. House of Representatives and the European Union.[5] An example of this was the September 2015 execution video of three Assyrian Christians, showing Dr. Abdulmasih Enwiya, Ashur Abraham, and Bassam Michael being lined up and shot to death.[6]

Today, executions of Christians are commonplace in Islamic State-held territory in Africa. A May 2022 video showed 16 Christians lined up and shot in the head by ISIS fighters in Nigeria's Borno State.[7]

Execution by beheading was common in the ISIS Caliphate and is also regularly carried out by ISIS in Africa; in the Caliphate, beheadings were often filmed and disseminated, and the same is true today in Africa (WARNING – GRAPHIC).

Beheading of Syrian priest and hermit Father Francois Murad, from the Franciscan Convent of St. Anthony in Ghassanieh, northern Syria, June 2013

Christians beheaded by ISMP following an attack on their village, June 2022

Vandalizing And Destroying Churches – ISIS In Iraq And Syria, ISIS In Africa

The destruction of Christian religious infrastructure was common under the 2014 Caliphate; ISIS fighters destroyed churches across Iraq and Syria regardless of their historical significance. For example, in September 2015, ISIS fighters in Homs, Syria destroyed the Mar Elian monastery, built in 432 CE.[8] Churches and other Christian sites and symbols were vandalized and destroyed; for example, in March 2015 ISIS members vandalized churches in Ninawa, Iraq, destroying crosses, icons, and statues.[9] In April 2015, the ISIS information office in Ninawa Province, Iraq shared photos of ISIS fighters shattering gravestones with sledgehammers and defacing carvings of the cross.[10] A month earlier in the same province, ISIS published photos of its fighters vandalizing churches and destroying Christian icons.[11]

In June and July 2022, ISIS media reported that 13 Christian churches had been torched in ISIS operations across the African continent.[12]

Similarly, in a January 2022 attack on a Christian community in Adamawa State, northeastern Nigeria, ISIS set fire to the church's altar cloth that had a cross on it.[13]

ISIS bulldozes the Mar Elian monastery in Homs, Syria, in 2015; an ISIS fighter destroys a cross and another removes a cross from atop a church, Ninawa, Iraq, 2015

In an attack on December 30, 2021, ISIS fighters burned a church and other "possessions of Christian unbelievers," including houses and a vehicle, according to the news report claiming responsibility for the attack, which did not list any casualties. Two photos showed the church' altar cloth in flames, while others showed Christian homes and vehicles engulfed in flames. The previous December, ISIS claimed responsibility for a similar attack on a Christian community in neighboring Borno state, reportedly killing a Nigerian soldier and burning a church and several houses.

Around the same time, the pro-ISIS Al-Murhafat Foundation released a poster celebrating ISIS attacks on Christian homes in Nigeria and Mozambique. The poster referenced the Qur'an, Hadith, and Islamic jurisprudence in an attempt to justify such attacks on Christians.[14]

Burning of churches in Borno state, Nigeria, December 30, 2021, and in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, June 20, 2022.

Kidnapping And Enslaving Christians – ISIS In Iraq And Syria, ISIS In Africa

Under the Caliphate, ISIS was notorious for kidnapping Christians and demanding large ransoms their safe return. In 2015, the group demanded over $10 million for the release of about 200 Assyrian hostages.[15] Additionally, it regularly took Yazidi and Christians as slaves, particularly women.[16]

Across Africa today, Christian villages are frequently raided, and villagers are taken hostage. For example, ISCAP took numerous Christian prisoners during an attack in the DRC in September of 2022.[17]

ISIS lines up a group of prisoners kidnapped from Nigeria's Borno State.

ISIS fighters and kidnapped prisoners in the Caliphate

Forced Conversions - ISIS In Iraq And Syria, ISIS In Africa

In addition to demanding ransom for kidnapped Christians, ISS also coerces its prisoners to denounce Christianity and convert to Islam, presumably under threat of violence. In 2015, ISIS released a video of a prisoner taken hostage from an Assyrian village in northern Iraq, who, it claimed, willingly converted to Islam, and not under duress.[18] A week after the aforementioned September 2022 ISCAP attack in the DRC, the group published a video of prisoners being released in ISIS-held territory in the DRC, after converting to Islam.[19]

Left, an Iraqi Assyrian Christian who converted to Islam after being taken prisoner by ISIS in 2015; right, kidnapped Christians in Africa whom ISIS claimed had decided to convert to Islam, August 2022

Spreading ISIS Ideology - ISIS In Iraq And Syria, ISIS In Africa

During its Caliphate, ISIS established "media points" – booths – across across Iraq and Syria, as part of its da'wa (outreach) efforts to provide ISIS videos and other content across the region.[20]

Media point in Mosul, Iraq, 2014

Today, ISIS is doing the same across Africa. For example, ISWAP published photos showing its fighters watching a video released by the ISIS Somalia Province, titled "Allah Is the Guardian of the Believers."[21] News

About This Report

This report will present examples of media posts about attacks on Christians by ISIS affiliates in Africa, from ISIS media including the 'Amaq, Nashir, and Al-Furqan news agencies and the Al-Naba' weekly and the English-language Halummu media outlet, as well as by pro-ISIS media such as the Moata News Agency, World News 2021, the Al-Dir'Al-Sunni Media Foundation, and the Murhafat Foundation. The information is disseminated almost exclusively by official ISIS Telegram channels, such as Al-Tamkin News and Khilafah News, and by pro-ISIS Telegram channels, including Muhalil Askari ("Military Analyst"), Mujrayat Al-Hadith ("Course of Events"), Sawt Al-Iman Wal-Hikma ("Voice Of Faith And Wisdom"), and Murjayat Syria. Also used are other platforms such as, for example the Usud Ayn Al-Shams channel, as well as Twitter.

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