Tuesday, March 6, 2018

RLPB 445. Mali & Burkina Faso: captives imperilled as battle heats up

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 445 | Wed 7 Mar 2018

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by Elizabeth Kendal

Map showing conflict zone
The G5 Sahel Cross-Border Joint Force was officially launched in the Malian capital, Bamako, on 2 July 2017. Its mandate includes combating terrorism. The main terrorist entity in the region is JNIM (Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin / Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims). Formed in March 2017, JNIM is an alliance of four al-Qaeda affiliates. On 1 July 2017 --  i.e., the day before the Joint Force launch -- JNIM released a disturbing video entitled 'The Correct Equation' in which al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, explains the Islamic doctrine of retaliation (Qisas) ['eye for an eye']. It was in that context that JNIM provided proof-of-life of six captives: four Christian aid workers: Gloria Narvaez (Colombia), Sophie Petronin (France), Beatrice Stockly (Switzerland) and Ken Elliot (Australia), along with Romanian expatriate, Mr Iulian Ghergut, and one South African charity worker who subsequently converted to Islam and has since been released. JNIM's message was clear: you kill our people, we will kill your people; we have six of yours right here; hostages you can redeem with cash. [See: RLPB 413 'Captives in Crisis' (5 July 2017).]

Sr Gloria Narvaez,
in better times.
Since the Joint Force became operational in November 2017 violence has escalated markedly. As fighting escalates, so too does JNIM's need for large quantities of cash. On 29 January JNIM released a video featuring captive Colombian nun Gloria Narvaez. Presenting Narvaez as abandoned, JNIM directed its appeal first to Pope Francis and then to Narvaez's family.

During the night of 13-14 February, French troops operating in north-eastern Mali launched co-ordinated attacks on a jihadist base near Tinzaouaten on the border with Algeria. The assault, in which air strikes were followed by helicopter assaults and engagement on the ground, resulted in at least 20 senior jihadists being killed or captured and a large quantity of weapons and documents being seized. Among the dead were six high level JNIM commanders, including JNIM's co-founder and senior leader, Hasan al Ansari. Retaliation was all but guaranteed.

Sophie Petronin, in better times.
Click here for VIDEO (France24)
On 1 March JNIM released a short video featuring French hostage Sophie Petronin. A doctor specialising in nutrition and tropical diseases, Petronin founded and ran the medical charity 'Aide a Gao' (Help Gao). She had served the children of Gao, Mali, for 15 years before being abducted on 24 December 2016. Entitled 'S.O.S, Save Old Sophie', the video shows Petronin (72) lying on a cot looking exceedingly frail with an improvised IV infusion bag and medications nearby. Over the images, audio of French President Emmanuel Macron saying 'I will protect you' plays on a loop. The message is clear: Petronin's health is deteriorating; if you want her alive, you will need to ransom her quickly.

Hours later, on Friday 2 March, JNIM staged a devastating terror attack in Burkina Faso's capital city, Ouagadougou. At least eight jihadists armed with grenades and firearms, working in two groups of four or five, targeted the French Embassy and Army headquarters. Army headquarters was also struck with a massive car-bomb. The brazen co-ordinated attacks in the city centre left more than 30 dead and 85 wounded (ICG analysis 5 March]. On 3 March JNIM claimed responsibility and confirmed that the attack was retaliation for the 13-14 February operation that killed JNIM leader Hasan al Ansari.

Click here to see
Dr Elliot's video appeal for
the Burkina Faso Medical Clinic
On Monday 15 January thousands of local residents took to the streets of Djibo in northern Burkina Faso to mark the second anniversary of the abduction of their beloved doctor. The clinic Dr Ken Elliot (82) built and had run with his wife Jocelyn since 1972 -- which is still the only medical clinic in that remote, impoverished region -- has been closed since Dr Elliot's abduction. Before he was taken, Dr Elliot had been hoping to find someone to take over the practice as the Elliots are long past 'retirement' age. Indeed, the four Christian aid workers presently held by JNIM are not merely suffering believers targeted for their faith. Each one represents a frontline Christian ministry that had been taking the very practical love of God into a dark and desperately needy region. How beautiful in the desert are the feet of those who bring good news ... (inspired by Isaiah 52:7).

'We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places' (from Ephesians 6:10-18 ESV).


* God Almighty will 'bare his holy arm' (roll up his sleeves) 'before the eyes of all the nations, and that all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God' (from Isaiah 52:10); may the Lord intervene to restore security and liberty to the Sahel -- ridding it of the Islamist-jihadist threat -- so Christian ministry might resume in earnest.

* God will sustain -- physically, emotionally and spiritually -- and ultimately deliver JNIM's five remaining hostages: Gloria Narvaez (Colombia), Sophie Petronin (France), Beatrice Stockly (Switzerland), Ken Elliot (Australia) and Iulian Ghergut (Romania).

* God will not permit the devil to have a victory here; may the Lord call, equip and send out workers into this desolate and needy harvest field (see Matthew 9:35-38).

'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Matthew 16:18 ESV)


Battles rage between the Mali-based al-Qaeda alliance known as JNIM and the French and G5 Sahel Cross-Border Joint Force troops tasked with combating terrorism in the Sahel. On 14-15 February French troops scored a major victory against JNIM in north-east Mali, killing six of its senior leaders, including its co-founder. On 2 March, having already promised retaliation, JNIM militants co-ordinated attacks in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou. The attacks, targeting the French Embassy and Army HQ, left 30 dead and 85 wounded. As violence has escalated so too has JNIM's need for cash. Consequently, JNIM -- which is holding four Christian aid workers and a Romanian for ransom -- has released two videos, featuring two of its five hostages. These captives are gravely imperilled. Please pray that God Almighty will intervene.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com