As Islamic extremism comes to Maroua, PIME missionary bears witness
Yaoundé (AsiaNews) – Fr Giuseppe Parietti, regional superior for the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Cameroon, was at Maroua’s central market – near the Hausa neighbourhood –when two 15-year-old girls blew themselves up, yesterday.
“I was just a few hundred metres from the blast, in Maroua’s central market,” he told AsiaNews. “We heard a bang, and then a minute later, another. People ran everywhere. Later we heard that the bombers were two girls. Sadly, violence has come here too. And it might be just be the beginning. This is scary.”
So far, the death toll from the two explosions stood at 13 with 32 wounded, some in serious condition. However, no one has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Some people are concerned that the girls might belong to Boko Haram, which has been spreading terror in neighbouring Nigeria for the past five years with attacks on churches and mosques as well as by abducting female students to sell as slaves or marry off to militants.
Since 2009, the rebels have killed at least 15,000 and with more 1.5 million refugees.
Yesterday’s attacks was the incident of its kind in ten days in northern Cameroon. On 12 July, two fully veiled women blew themselves up at Fotokol, on the border with Nigeria, in the Lake Chad region.
"This morning the situation was back to normal. Markets have reopened. Now we have to go back to everyday life, certainly with less peace of mind than before," the missionary said.
Boko Haram has been on the offensive in northern Cameroon for over two years. In some places, the authorities have imposed a nighttime ban on motorcycles because they are the terrorists’ preferred means of transportation to move across the border with Nigeria.
"The problem with bombers is that that they have become fanatics, indoctrinated,” Fr Parietti said. “They all say that they are giving their life for God, that they’ll become martyrs. They are ready, psychologically too. They are trained.”
“There are social problems at the bottom of this, things like poverty, joblessness, which make people more responsive to radical ideas. There is also some madness. Some Muslims use God to justify their mad actions.”
"Sadly, some powerful political and economic groups back extremists with weapons. The latter are directly or indirectly helped from Libya and other countries.”
“Most Muslims are in favour of peace,” said the missionary, who lived for a year with a Muslim family. “They want dialogue among religions. They want to live in peace. They are light-years from these madmen.”
“As PIME missionaries, we are working with them,” he explained. “We have a meeting house where various projects are developed, including jobs for young people. The goal is to work together for the country’s development, with the help of the authorities. There is no other way.”
For Fr Parietti, civilian and military authorities play a crucial role in building peaceful coexistence, helping "people get used to living in peace despite their differences.”
"For our part, as missionaries, we have to be with people, even if the situation is not quiet. This is our work, "he said.