US withdraws embassy staff from Niger, Christians concerned

Supporters of the coup in Niger wave Russian flags on Sunday as they rally in support of Niger’s junta in Niamey (PHOTO:AFP via Getty Images/NBC News)

Originally published in Worthy Christian News

The United States acknowledged yesterday that it ordered the evacuation of staff and families from its embassy in Niger following last week’s coup, which added to uncertainty within the Christian minority in the West African nation.

The move, confirmed by the US State Department, came as Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the White House was committed to restoring the troubled country’s government.

Niger is a key Western ally in the fight against Islamist insurgents, who also attacked the tiny Christian minority in the Islamic country of 25 million people.

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Washington appears concerned that it will become even more challenging to tackle Islamist fighters under Niger’s new rulers.

However, even before the coup, authorities appeared unable to tackle extremism spreading across the region, Christians said. “In the past five years, the Sahel region has seen a huge increase in violent Islamist attacks, and the government of Niger has lost a lot of territory to the jihadists. The presence of militant groups such as Boko Haram, Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) remains a constant threat both to the state authorities and to Christians in the country,” confirmed well-informed Christian advocacy group Open Doors in a recent assessment.

“In border areas under Islamist control, militant groups are known to use violence against Christians meeting publicly, so Christian meetings are conducted covertly to avoid detection,” the group added.

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Open Doors ranks Niger 28th on its annual World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution.

“In regions near the border of Nigeria, churches have been burned and pastors forced to flee their homes. Meanwhile, the local authorities have occasionally stopped believers from meeting, and the registration process for churches is long and difficult,” the group stressed.

Foreign powers who condemned Niger’s coup and recent takeover fear it could allow the militants to gain even more ground. Due to the tensions “and out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State is ordering the temporary departure of non-emergency US government personnel and eligible family members from the US embassy in Niamey,” state department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Additionally, Blinken told Niger’s ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, in a phone call on Wednesday that the US remained committed to the restoration of the democratically elected government, the state department said.

Miller stressed that the US remained “diplomatically engaged at the highest levels,” adding that the embassy remained open for limited emergency services to American citizens.

The US announcement came as the self-declared new leader of Niger said the junta would not reinstate Bazoum despite pressure from neighboring countries.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has imposed sanctions on Niger.

It warned it could authorize using force if the coup leaders do not restore Bazoum’s presidency within a week from last Sunday.

Russian flags

Meanwhile CBN News reports that after the coup, Russian flags were seen waving throughout the capital. One was even put atop the French embassy, which had to be evacuated after it was attacked. 

The Russian flags are a clear sign that Niger and a number of African nations have a new ally.  And while the Wagner Group’s status in Russia remains unclear after its failed uprising against the Russian military leadership, Vladimir Putin is still using Wagner mercenaries to change the political landscape in Africa for Russia’s benefit.

AP Correspondent Sam Mednick said, “Already on the streets of Niamey, in the capital, people have been outside, waving Russian flags, saying that they welcome Wagner, they want Russia to come and they want the French to leave.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group is operating in several African nations. And where the Wagner Group goes, trouble usually follows.

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