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Fears of jihadist violence mount in Niger

27 February 2016, 08:22

Niamey - Increasingly targeted by jihadist fighters roaming its remote northern desert and Nigeria's feared Boko Haram insurgents on its southern flank, Niger fears the emergence of its own brand of home-grown Islamist trouble.

In recent years foreign-funded aid groups and social media have brought ideas peddled by Wahhabism - an ultraconservative form of Islam - to more and more of Niger's 19 million people...one of the planet's poorest nations.

The past decade has seen thousands of mosques built and the number of madrassas, or Koranic schools, soar.

Almost every street in poor parts of the capital Niamey has a mosque, with the faithful gathering by the hundreds for prayers. Most women in the west African nation now wear a headscarf.

Niger is 98% Muslim, but the vast majority adhere to the Maliki school of Sunni Islam popular across the region that is viewed as more tolerant than Wahhabism - a fundamentalist school of Islam supported by Saudi Arabia and accused of inspiring the Islamic State group.

Even this month's presidential and parliamentary elections were marked by religion, with campaign rallies invariably opening with the Fatiha, a recital of the opening passage of the Koran widely used before public events.

Education facilities

Boubakar Seydou Traore, imam of the Tchangarai district in northern Niamey and general secretary of the Islamic Association of Niger, welcomed the growing place of religion.

"With the new media, television, internet and radios, we now have access to more information. This has promoted better practices. Women wearing veils, interrupting university courses at times of prayer...this is the emergence of Islam," Traore said.

The Christian minority once lived peacefully alongside Muslims, but in January 2015 anti-Christian riots in Niamey and southeastern Zinder left 10 dead and 50 churches razed in an unprecedented flare-up of religious violence.

The riots were sparked by the publication of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, a week after gunmen killed 12 people in a Paris attack against the paper.

With a fast-growing population and a world record fertiliy rate, Niger lacks education facilities, with few girls in class and boys frequently sent to Koranic schools.

Interior Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou meanwhile played down the influence of Wahhabism, saying it "only concerns a small part of the population" and that most hardliners come from Mali, Libya and Nigeria.

He did acknowledge however that "there is a fringe that could become radical"and said the administration was closely monitoring the Islamist issue.



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