January 2015 saw a murderous attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, which killed 12 journalists.
In Niger, as in much of the Muslim world, protests against the work of Charlie Hebdo, which was claimed to have insulted Islam’s prophet, became violent, as more than 70 churches were destroyed, along with numerous Christian schools and organisations, including an orphanage.
Rioters also targeted police, government buildings, and French businesses, killing 10 and injuring dozens more.
For many years the Muslim majority and Christian minority had co-existed relatively peacefully. The 2015 riots brought to light the increasing extremist influence spreading from neighbouring northern Nigeria, and pushed leaders of the Muslim and Christian communities to build bridges and denounce the violence.
Southern Niger and northern Nigeria share a common language and culture. In recent years, the rhetoric coming from northern Nigeria, where radical preachers are much more hostile to Christians, has spread into Niger, revealing a “sleeping radicalism”, Elisée Assan Oumara, a church leader in Niger’s second largest city, Zinder, told Christian Science Monitor.
Mohamadou al-Hadi Ashara, an imam in the southern city of Maradi, told CSM: “Now we have taken measures, no-one can come from outside and deliver a violent sermon. In order to preach in our country, you should have a [sponsor] in the country; you should present what you will preach. If it is against Islamic laws, you will be prevented from preaching.”
Local inter-religious groups were also formed to coordinate the messages being taught in churches and mosques. But some Christians say they have been disappointed with how the government has managed the crisis and the threat of jihadism from neighbouring countries.