A bishop responsible for the minimal Catholic presence in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, says the Islamic State group is gaining ground in the country.
Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti, who serves the Diocese of Mogadishu from outside the country, says the extremist group known for its brutality in Iraq and Syria has chosen Somalia “because there is no central authority. The country also represents a good possibility for them to continue their search for an Islamic state or, at least, they can continue their ideology without many obstacles”, he told Catholic News Service (CNS).
An IS-affiliated group has set up base in Puntland state, north-eastern Somalia, from where it is recruiting fighters who have fled Iraq and Syria, as well as former fighters of the Somali militant Islamist group Al-Shabaab.
The UN Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia reported in November that the faction had “grown significantly” – from a “few dozen” in 2016 to 200 fighters – and regularly carries out attacks in Puntland.
Churches are almost non-existent in Somalia, and Catholics in Somalia would be in danger if they were identified, the bishop told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. In August last year the only Catholic church in Somaliland was closed again only one week after it re-opened, while most Christians in Somaliland are expatriates.
Christians in surrounding countries like Kenya have seen an increase in attacks in recent years, predominantly at the hands of Al-Shabaab, which is based in the border region of Somalia. Militants cross into Kenya to raid towns or attack buses, and have been known to separate Christians from Muslims, and execute the Christians.
Father Wilybard Lagho, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Mombasa, Kenya, told CNS, that while people living in Kenyan border towns like Wajir believed that Al-Shabaab had gone, they were still hearing of attacks. But, he added, there is still no evidence of IS in Kenya.