– Michael Carl

On the same day that Open Doors USA named Mali the world’s seventh worst persecutor of Christians, there were reports that al-Qaida fighters there were launching an offensive to capture two cities.

Fears are that their goal is to take over the North African nation and persecute Christian members of the population much as violent radicals in Nigeria and Somalia do against their Christian populations.

International Christian Concern’s Africa analyst William Stark says al-Qaida’s offensive is a major reason the nation went from being unranked to No. 7 on the list.

“Their goal is to take over the entire country of Mali. Open Doors USA just came out with a list of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians and Mali went from unranked to No. 7. This would be problematic for Christians in Mali. These extremists would likely persecute Christians to a similar extent as Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Somalia,” Stark said.

The reports detail al-Qaida’s attacks on the key northern cities of Kona and Mopti. Both are crucial because they are major transportation hubs or gateways to transportation outlets.

A Malian Christian who has asked not to be identified for security reasons confirms the al-Qaida-led assault on those key cities. He says the rebels are making significant progress.

“These Islamic terrorists and extremists are at the front line of one of the regions of the south of Mali near the town of Mopti,” the Christian said.

The source also said the al-Qaida-led assault is being undertaken for a very specific religious and cultural purpose.

“They’re aiming to infiltrate the south of Mali up to the capital of Bamako in order to apply the Shariah law to all of the inhabitants of Mali,” the Christian source said.

Heritage Foundation Africa specialist Morgan Roach confirms the reports.

“While details are still emerging, there are reports that the coalition of Islamist militants, who occupy northern Mali’s three administrative regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, is making an advance southwards to Mopti, not far from where the region’s main airport is located in Sevare,” Roach said.

Roach said the government is sending reinforcements to one of the government controlled towns, but the al-Qaida offensive is alarming.