Pope Francis expressed his grief and concern over the recent terrorist attacks in Niger that killed 137 people— 22 of which are children aged 5 to 17.
Speaking at the weekly General Audience in the Vatican on March 24, the Pope expressed his solidarity with the people of the West African nation.
“I have learned with sorrow the news of the recent terrorist attacks in Niger, which resulted in the death of 137 people,” the Pope said. (Read: Myanmar Bishops Condemn Killings of Anti-Coup Protesters)
He added that he is praying for the victims of the attacks and their families, and that he hopes “that the violence they have suffered will not cause them to lose faith in the path of democracy, justice, and peace.”
Last week, March 21, Niger was put in absolute chaos after men on motorbikes raided villages in the remote Tahoua region, near the border with Mali. The brutal attacks left 137 people dead and several others injured or separated from their families.
The killings mark the country’s worst civilian massacre in recent memory, surpassing an attack by suspected militants in January that killed at least 100 villagers and another last week that killed at least 58.
Authorities relate the incident with a local group that is said to be an affiliate of the Islamic State affiliate. (Read: Remembering the 9 Activists Who Died on ‘Bloody Sunday’)
Over the past months, violence in Niger has been escalating as a result of Islamist militants infiltrating ethnic conflicts between rival farming and herding communities. (Read: Pope Francis to Meet With Families of Victims of Nice Basilica Attack)
The militants, largely drawn from the Fulani herding community, have been targeting civilians as revenge for Fulanis who were killed by farmers in self-defense.
Niger’s President-elect, Mohamed Bazoum, says the issue will be his top priority once he assumes the position as leader of the country.