Priest in Niger Recounts Threat as Jihadists Wage Psychological Warfare against Civilians

A map section of Tillabéri in Southern Niger that has been characterized with attacks by jihadists.

Civilians in Niger are living in fear owing to threats by militants who are said to have launched a psychological warfare in the west African country, a Catholic Priest in the country has recounted.

The Priest serving in the Catholic Mission of Bomoanga near Niger’s border with Burkina Faso has said that increased threats have destabilized the region, forcing school going children to flee to other places, and bringing to a halt other key economic activities.

This is the place where Italian-born member of the Society of African Missions (SMA), Fr. Pier Luigi Maccalli was kidnapped by unknown people in his Church and later freed in neighboring Mali.

“Pupils and students were forced to move elsewhere to continue their studies. This also applies to dozens of families, terrified and unable to peacefully cultivate the land or raise livestock,” Fr. Mauro Armanino, a confrere of Fr. Maccalli told Agenzia Fides.

The jihadists, Fr. Armanino says, had sent out a message, urging the children to go back to their homes, thereby sending mixed reactions among the people and aggravating tension in the region.


“The jihadists told the students that they should return to the village to see their families again and to seek help to continue their studies,” Fr. Armanino who ministers in Niger’s Archdiocese of Niamey says in the Monday, March 22 news report.

“Perhaps it is only a threat, a provocation, a lie aimed at continuing to terrorize the peasants,” the Italian-born Missionary Priest further says, and adds, “Or there is some truth because the explosive material, also used for the gold mines in the region, is widely available as well as weapons and other explosives which have long been in circulation in this portion of the border between Niger and Burkina Faso.”

Fr. Armanino notes that the threats, whether they are true or not, have undermined the social fabric of the region, which is not more than a hundred kilometers from Niger’s capital, Niamey.

Making reference to the account by the Missionary Cleric, Agenzia Fides reports, “A real psychological war is waged against civilians in the Bomoanga area on the border between Niger and Burkina Faso where, in the night between 17 and 18 September 2018, Fr. Pier Luigi Maccalli, Italian missionary of the Society of African Missions (SMA) was kidnapped by jihadist militiamen.”

Fr. Armanino says that since the kidnapping of Fr. Maccalli, the security situation of Bomoanga has continued to deteriorate, forming ground for armed terrorist groups who are holding thousands of peasants hostage.

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Extremists belonging to the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group are especially notorious in the Tillaberi region of Western Niger.

There have been reported attacks in Niger in an ongoing series of attacks by militants on civilians and soldiers in the Tillabéri region that have left 170 dead and at least 78 injured.

In one of the latest attacks on March 16, gunmen on motorcycles attacked a group of civilians who were returning from a livestock market in Banibangou, near Niger's troubled border with Mali. 

The March 16 attack echoed a January massacre that left some 100 people dead in two villages also in the Tillaberi region.

In the interview with Agenzia Fides, Fr.  Armanino notes that the relationships of trust between ethnic groups, religions, projects for growth and social development in Niger have been undermined by “those who have an interest in creating a new state of affairs called dictatorship.”


He says that the fact that Niger’s most volatile regions is covered with Salafists (a branch movement within Sunni Islam) “does not change the final result.”

“Undermining the life of the poor peasants, their source of dignity and hope, also constituted by the religious choice, unfortunately constitutes a crime that has so far gone unpunished,” Fr. Armanino says in the March 22 news report.

He adds, “Fr. Pier Luigi made liberation from violence and misery the meaning of his mission. This demining work has been left to us as a legacy.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.