A challenge to fear. From 25 to 30 November Pope Francis will be in Africa. A journey that many people define as ”at risk”. Different threats have become even more concrete after the events in Paris, but this is not going to stop Pope Bergoglio. But why is there so much apprehension, more than during other journeys?
French secret service and the intelligence of other countries have stressed for a long time that there was risk of an attack on the Pope in Bangui, Central African Republic. The reason of the alarm is the fact that the last stop of the journey will be in an area where situation is rather unstable. There have been conflicts between the Seleka Muslim guerrillas and the Anti Belaka, the so-called “Seleka’s machete”, a group that consists of Christian-animist militants.
Besides, in Bangui will gather pilgrims from neighboring nations: Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon. Countries with a considerable jihadist presence and terrorist could hide among the faithful. The Central African Republic does not dispose of security forces that would be able to contrast attacks such as those in Paris or in the hotel in Mali. The opening of the Holy Door of the Bangui cathedral, the official opening act of the Holy Year of Mercy, will be accompanied by a strong deployment of local military forces and by the support of French special forces; nonetheless, those are supporting actions to a defensive fabric that is not optimal. The stop in Entebbe, Uganda, on the contrary, seems to be less problematic on the front of security; the country is characterized by sufficient stability and social conditions are certainly less controversial than in the rest of Africa.
But there will be risks during all the stages of this apostolic journey. And perhaps the first appointment will be the one most at risk. Kenya, where the Pope is going to begin his mission, is a long-time target of the Somali group To Shabaab that has already claimed bloody massacres. The last one being the massacre of the University of Garissa where in April 2015 died 147 Christian students. In Kenya, Christians represent 85% of the population, but the commitment of the Kenyan army in the African contingent present in Somalia to stabilize the country is considered an act of war by the group affiliated with Al Qaeda , hence Kenya is an enemy to be attacked.
Besides, an episode has raised the alarm these days. In the latest issue of the ISIS magazine Dabiq, released on 18 November with a cover photo of the Paris massacre, there are explicit threats against the Pope; inside, we can find an interview with Abu Muharib as Somalis, a mujahid who had left Shabaab to swear allegiance to the Islamic State.
According to his testimony, there is a ‘mass defection” from the Somalian qaedist organization happening behind the lines, without affecting its leadership; yet, at the right time, it may prove to be extremely useful to the plans of Al Baghdadi to expand his influence and hegemony to the jihadists groups.
A disturbing coincidence: in the previous Dabiq issue there was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks in Paris, whereas in this new issue speaks a terrorist who gravitates in the jihadist galaxy where the apostolic journey will take place.
Finally, on page 66 of the 10th issue of the ISIS magazine, Pope Francis is portrayed next to the Grand Mufti Rahmi Yaran in Istanbul; one is described as “the Pope Crusader” the other as “the scholar of the apostate government” and the quote from a hadith by The Bukhari, is clearly menacing. Allah’s prophet says: “Soon the time will come when Knowledge will be take away from people” then, below: “Its representatives will be eliminated (the pious scholars or the compassionate)”. The Islamic State has never concealed its macabre plans and those published threats do not let one sleep easy.