Christians in Mali Threatened by Imams’ “incessant verbal attacks”, Catholic Charity Says

IDPs in Segou, Mali. Credit: ACN

A section of Imams who have been said to share the ideology of Jihadists in Mali are preventing Christians from worshipping freely through their threatening verbal attacks, Catholic charity and Pontifical foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, has said.

Locals in Mali who spoke to the charity foundation narrated that although the ongoing terrorism in Mali is affecting the entire population of the West African country, the situation of the Christians who live scattered throughout the various towns and villages of the region is especially worrying.

“There are villages where it is impossible to go and celebrate Holy Mass. The Christian faithful have to be very careful about how they practice their faith. Even where they are not the direct target of physical attacks, the verbal attacks launched against them during the preaching of some of the imams, who share the jihadist ideology, are incessant,” a source in direct contact with the Christian faithful told ACN.

In the ACN report shared with ACI Africa Friday, December 3, the source is quoted as adding, “There are also frequent direct personal threats, for example anonymous threatening telephone calls. All this is creating a psychosis within the Christian communities.”

According to the source who sought anonymity, the pastoral work of the Church is also being affected by the situation of violence and the jihadist attacks.


“The freedom of movement is very limited. Previously the priests were able to spend the night in the villages; but today that is no longer possible”, the source confirmed to ACN.

The Pontifical foundation has also raised concern that the security situation in Mali has continued to deteriorate “in the last few months.”

The Catholic entity is especially concerned that jihadists and other terror groups have resorted to using hunger as a weapon to force locals to join their ranks.

“The increased violence is affecting above all the country people, given that the Jihadists are preventing the farmers from harvesting their rice fields, burning the fields and attacking farmers when they attempt to harvest them,” ACN says in the report published Tuesday, November 30.

“Terrorists are using hunger as a weapon to force the country people to either join their ranks or abandon their land to be occupied by the extremists,” the Catholic entity reports, and adds, “Those who have already harvested their rice fields are being prevented from moving the harvest, and those who refuse to obey the orders of the extremists are having their fields burned down and risk being murdered as well.”

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According to the Catholic charity, the situation is particularly unstable in the Ségou region of Central Mali, with fighting between the local community militia and self-defense group of the Donso hunters, on the one side, and the invading jihadist terrorists on the other.

This is the place where Fr. Léon Dougnon, the Parish Priest of Ségué, was kidnapped on June 21 alongside four other people in Mali’s Mopti Diocese.

Fr. Dougnon was freed on July 13 after spending close to a month in captivity and attributed his release to the series of prayers, including the Holy Rosary, which the people of God offered while he was being held by his abductors.

Jihadists in Mali are attempting to impose Sharia law, locals have told ACN, and explained, “The Jihadists are acting in the name of religion. Everything that does not conform to their own ideology suffers as a result. That is why there are so many refugees.”

ACN asserts that even though the conflict is not a purely religious one, “it is impossible to deny that it is about religion… given that…the desire to impose Islamic Sharia law is proof that the Jihadists, especially those of the Katiba Macina, are working for the expansion of a radical Islam of a kind that many other Muslims do not share.”


The jihadist Katiba Macina group is linked to other extremist groups, such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and is active in Central Mali.

Mali, a country with a population of 19.66 million people has reportedly experienced a surge in violence involving both civilians and the military since 2012. Since then, abductions have become more persistent in the nation with militants seeking either to get ransoms or to exert political pressure.

The attacks orchestrated by independent militia and jihadists linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State, as well as inter-communal violence, have left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced, reports indicate. 

According to the latest figures from the UNHCR, the number of internally displaced Malians had already exceeded 400,000 by the end of September 2021. In the first half of the year alone almost 90,000 people had been forced to flee their homes.

“The Catholic Church, although frequently impotent in the face of the sheer scale of the humanitarian crisis and its own lack of resources, is striving to assist all those in need – whether Christians, Muslims or followers of ancient African religions,” ACN reports.

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The Catholic charity adds, “Thanks to the help of ACN International, the local Church has begun an aid project, providing food and medical aid to the refugees and the most vulnerable families in 12 different centres in the Segou region of central Mali.”

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.