WASHINGTON — With Boko Haram recently seizing its own 20,000-square-mile territory in Northern Nigeria, all signs indicate that the extremist group is working toward building a Caliphate, or Islamic government ruled by a Caliph, that could span across Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, a top Christian persecution watchdog leader warned.
While discussing the findings from the 2015 Open Doors USA World Watch List of top 50 nations where Christians are persecuted the most, during an event hosted by the Family Research Council on Thursday, Open Doors USA President, Dr. David Curry, explained the severity of the situation in Nigeria, which ranked 10th on the list, and the legitimate threat that the extremist group Boko Haram poses to Nigeria's neighboring countries.
Curry said that in Nigeria, over 2,200 people were executed in 2014 because of their faith, which he claims could be a low estimate since there could be many more that the list could not verify.
Curry added that it is even more troubling to notice that Boko Haram is in the midst of a familiar pattern of violent extremism that helped the Islamice State extremists establish their so-called Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
Although over 9,000 Nigerians were killed and over 1.5 million were displaced as a result of Boko Haram violence in 2014, the terrorist group took its first real step toward building its own caliphate when it conquered an area the size of Belgium in the Northeastern Borno state in mid-January, capturing a few key Nigerian border towns. In one of it's deadliest altercations yet in the town of Baga, off of the shore of Lake Chad, the group destroyed over 3,700 homes and killed as many as 2,000 people.
"Nigeria has been experiencing attacks much like the Iraqis were facing just a few years ago," Curry explained. "You have Boko Haram, which has a very similar Al-Qaeda, Islamic State ideology, they have been making attacks, bombings, like you have seen on churches. Now all of a sudden they are beginning to take territory.
"There is a common-path pattern here," Curry added. "First, individual attacks, then bombings, then the conquering of territory and attacking of civilian sites like army bases and these sorts of things."
But what further leads Curry to believe that areas in bordering countries such as Niger, Chad and Cameroon could be susceptible to being seized by a potential Boko Haram caliphate is that the extremist mindset is already present in the minds of many in those countries.
"There will be an attempt at a regional caliphate in the northern part of Nigeria, which has a large Christian population to the South, but has these strong extremist presence in the North into Niger over into Cameroon in Chad," Curry asserted. "You are going to see some major developments in this area as time goes on I believe."
The governments of Chad and Cameroon announced on Wednesday that their militaries have been actively fighting off Boko Haram this week and have killed over 250 militants.
Cameroonian forces killed 50 Boko Haram troops when the group attacked a Cameroonian border town of Fotokol Wednesday, believing that they had driven them out. But on Thursday, BBC reported that Boko Haram militants returned to Fotokol with a vengence, killing over 70 people by attacking them inside their homes and in the community mosque, slitting many throats, residents said. The militants also set many buildings on fire, including the mosque.
Chad officials killed over 200 militants in offensives against Boko Haram strongholds in two Nigerian border towns. Chad forces have gone into Nigeria after the Nigerian Army has come under much scrutiny.
In Niger a few weeks ago, Muslim extremists protested and torched an estimated 45 Christian churches in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack and ensuing "We are Charlie" protests in Europe.
"No one was even talking about the presence of these extremist movements within Niger, just two weeks ago, because they have not been paying attention to the World Watch List and what is happening there, which we have been highlighting as a country to watch," Curry explained. "What you see in our data this year is a strong case that shows that the persecution of Christians is a lead indicator of whether a city, a country, a region is going to tip into chaos."
Curry concluded the discussion by saying that Christians in the West have a responsibility to pray for the lives of their Christian brothers and sisters around the world who are experiencing the wrath of persecution.
"I think when you understand on a spiritual level that we are brothers and sisters, if you call yourself a follower of Jesus, your brothers and sisters are being killed for their faith. They are being executed for their faith. They are being pressured for their faith, losing their jobs and their homes," Curry said. "We have a responsibility, if you call yourself a follower of Jesus, to support them in prayer, to care for them as if it were yourself."