Mali, a country which had never been listed on the Open Doors World Watch List, was ranked as the 7th most difficult place to be a Christian in the world this year. Islamic insurgents had taken over two-thirds of the country and had forced many Christians from their homes. Churches, Christian places of business and Christian homes were destroyed, leaving many Christian no choice but to flee for their lives.
Almost a year later, French troops (along with troops from neighboring African nations) entered the country in hopes of ridding the country from the rebel forces. After these troops had entered, many of the cities were given back to the people and the insurgents no longer held control.
At the end of April dozens of French forces started withdrawing from Mali. A few members of the French contingency have been reallocated to the north-eastern town of Gao. France’s defense minister said that even though France is downscaling from its deployment high of about 4,000 it intends to keep 1,000 soldiers in Mali by the end of the year.
The circumstances in the North remain volatile. In Timbuktu banks, restaurants and many other businesses have not opened since they were looted and vandalized during the jihadist occupation. Army vehicles patrol the streets and there is a ban on driving after 6pm. The city has been almost emptied of its Tuareg inhabitants. Residents say that only a few Tuareg women remain and all the men have left.
Large weapons caches are believed to be hidden in the desert and suicide bombings are taking place from time to time. Last weekend, for instance, two Malian soldiers were killed and several injured in a suicide bombing in Hamakouladji village, north of Gao.
“No one knows if there will be more suicide bombings. It is possible at any time. All we can do is continue to patrol [Timbuktu] and the area outside it, and to be vigilant,” army officials told media.
Even the capital Bamako in the South, has been affected by the atmosphere of insecurity. In March security forces arrested at least eight people suspected of plotting an attack in the capital for the Islamist militant group Movement for Unity and a struggle or fight against the enemies of Islam. in West Africa (MUJAO). Malian officials said the arrests were the first sign that Islamist rebels have activated cells in Bamako.
Those arrested were all Malian nationals and that they had been living in Bamako’s Banankabougou district near a mosque.
“The group was dismantled at the beginning of March, but since it was a very sensitive issue we kept it secret until now,” said the officer, who spoke to media on condition of anonymity.
Please pray for Mali. This withdrawal of French troops will test the ability of Malian soldiers and their counterparts from neighboring nations to maintain peace in the area.
1. Please continue to pray for the safety of the few Christians that were forced to stay behind in the North of Mali when others fled. We have not had any news from them.
2. A while ago it was reported that some refugees who were in Bamako started thinking about returning, but we have since learnt that most of the Christians will probably settle in Bamako for longer than anticipated. Although they felt safe here initially, it seems that they may now be affected by some insecurity. Pray for continued protection.
3. Pray for church leaders ministering in the midst of these difficult circumstances. Some congregations have been restarted among the displaced and some pastors have to care for more than one congregation which are distances apart.
4. Please pray for all forces working to restore the peace in Mali. Pray that they will be successful.
Globalsecurity.org, Guardian.co.uk, Reuters, Associated Press