France intervenes as Islamist rebels push South in Mali

January 16, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

France intervenes as Islamist rebels push South in Mali

Barnabas Fund is providing aid to Christians in Mali

France, January 15, 2013: France has launched a military campaign against Islamist rebels who seized control of northern Mali last year; the militants have been pushing further south, putting the Christians who were previously forced to flee there in danger.

Ansar Dine and other militant groups with links to al-Qaeda are in control of two-thirds of the country following a violent takeover in the aftermath of a military coup. They drove Christians out and have imposed a harsh version of sharia law in the territory.

Last week, the rebels began pushing further into government-controlled territory, briefly seizing Konna before the town was recaptured with French aerial support. The Islamists were held off from Mopti, the last government-controlled city in the north, by warning shots from the Malian army.

The prospect of Ansar Dine progressing into southern Mali has sparked alarm. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said:

Obviously we are very concerned about the situation, and the development of essentially an entire terrorist region is of grave concern to everybody in the international community.

Yet the international response to the crisis has been slow, with only France taking decisive action. It launched military action on Friday (11 January), bombarding the rebel-held town of Gao, Ansar Dine’s headquarters in Kidal and other strategic bases. France has also sent troops to defend Mopti and the capital, Bamako. Reinforcements are expected from neighbouring African states.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said that had France not intervened, there was a risk that the militants could have advanced as far as Bamako, with “appalling consequences”. He said that the French action had succeeded in halting their advance southwards.

The Islamists have threatened revenge attacks on France. On Monday (14 January) Abou Dardar, a spokesman for the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), which controls Gao, said:

France has attacked Islam. We will strike at the heart of France.

He said that the attacks would be “everywhere. In Bamako, in Africa and in Europe”.

The Islamist takeover of northern Mali has had a devastating impact on the Church in the region. Christians were driven from their homes, and all church buildings in Gao and Timbuktu were destroyed.Many Christians fled to Bamako, where they have been living in refugee camps.

Were the militants to advance further south, Christians would undoubtedly be subjected to the same ordeal there as they experienced in the north, leaving them with no safe haven in their homeland. Before this crisis, Mali had been a largely peaceful and tolerant place for Christians to practise their faith. But it is now becoming reminiscent of Somalia, where al-Shabaab militants terrorise the Christian minority.

Clare Lopez of the Center for Security Policy said:

Mali’s Christians face a grim future of oppression, persecution and slaughter as the al-Qaeda jihadis seize ever more territory.

– barnabas team

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