Christians in sub-Saharan Africa remain a key target for Islamic extremists, according to the 2015 World Watch List published Wednesday by Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted Christians worldwide. For the third year in a row, the majority of African countries studied have risen in the ranks as danger zones for Christians.
Kenya jumped from number 43 on last year’s list to number 19 this year. One of the growing problems in the East African country is the presence of neighboring Somalia’s al-Shabab militants. In December the group was responsible for killing 64 Christians near Mandera, a Kenyan town on the border of Somalia. On Nov. 22, the militants hijacked a bus and killed 28 non-Muslims, 22 of which were traveling home for Christmas, Religion News Service reports.
According to Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and evangelical African Inland Church faith leaders in Kenya, there were more than 20 attacks in 2014 resulting in more than 200 deaths. Initially churches were targeted; now Christians are attacked on public transportation, the faith leaders said at a news conference in Nairobi on Dec. 10.
Other African countries on the 2015 World Watch List include Somalia, ranked second under North Korea. Sudan, Eritrea and Nigeria also were among the 10 countries with the most incidents of religious persecution. The highest number of deaths took place in Nigeria and the Central African Republic, with 2,484 and 1,088 reported, respectively.
Since 1993, Open Doors has released an annual World Watch List of the top 50 countries where Christians face discrimination. The organization defines persecution as “hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ.” This includes faith-related violence such as imprisonment, torture, beheadings, rape, and loss of home and assets.
Of the 50 countries listed, “Islamic extremism” was cited for 40 of them as the reason behind Christian persecution.
“It is fair to say that Islamic extremism has two global centers of gravity. One in the Arab Middle East, but the other is in sub-Saharan Africa, and even Christian majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination and even violence,” Ron Boyd-MacMillan, director of strategic trends and research for Open Doors International, wrote in a report that accompanied the World Watch List. This includes “squeezing” tactics such as being shunned by family members or the community or losing a job.
“It’s important to understand this extremism is not only from the violent jihadists like the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, but Islamists who seek to take over cultures by stealth,” Boyd-MacMillan said.
Below is a complete list of the 2015 World Watch List:
Central African Republic
United Arab Emirates