ctn pkg casarez isis targets religion_00014920.jpg
West Warwick Police Department
ctn pkg casarez isis targets religion_00014920.jpg
Now playing
02:38
Is there an international attack on faith?
erin dnt lah surveillance success privacy fears_00010925.jpg
erin dnt lah surveillance success privacy fears_00010925.jpg
Now playing
03:07
City-wide surveillance helps capture Copenhagen suspect
bts danish prime minister copenhagen terror attack_00011917.jpg
bts danish prime minister copenhagen terror attack_00011917.jpg
Now playing
01:33
Danish Prime Minister: 'We are still on high alert'
People put flowers to honour the shooting victims outside the main Synagogue of Copenhagen on February 16, 2015, after last week-end two fatal attacks. The attacks, which targeted a debate on Islam and free speech and a synagogue, came just a month after the Islamist attacks in Paris at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo office and a Kosher Supermarket.

AFP PHOTO / CLAUS BJOERN LARSENCLAUS BJOERN LARSEN/AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
People put flowers to honour the shooting victims outside the main Synagogue of Copenhagen on February 16, 2015, after last week-end two fatal attacks. The attacks, which targeted a debate on Islam and free speech and a synagogue, came just a month after the Islamist attacks in Paris at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo office and a Kosher Supermarket. AFP PHOTO / CLAUS BJOERN LARSENCLAUS BJOERN LARSEN/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
03:00
Jewish community fearful after Copenhagen attack
Swedish artist Lars Vilks is pictured near burn stains in his kitchen at his home outside of Hoganas on May 16, 2010. Police arrested two suspects after an attempted fire-bomb attack on the home of a Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, controversial for drawing the Prophet Mohammed with the body of a dog, they said today. Both suspects, aged 21 and 19, are Swedish nationals of Kosovar origin, from the southern city of Landskrona, and have been detained after personal items were found near the scene. AFP PHOTO/SCANPIX/Bjorn Lindgren (Photo credit should read BJORN LINDGREN/AFP/Getty Images)
BJORN LINDGREN/AFP/Getty Images/FILE
Swedish artist Lars Vilks is pictured near burn stains in his kitchen at his home outside of Hoganas on May 16, 2010. Police arrested two suspects after an attempted fire-bomb attack on the home of a Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, controversial for drawing the Prophet Mohammed with the body of a dog, they said today. Both suspects, aged 21 and 19, are Swedish nationals of Kosovar origin, from the southern city of Landskrona, and have been detained after personal items were found near the scene. AFP PHOTO/SCANPIX/Bjorn Lindgren (Photo credit should read BJORN LINDGREN/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:39
Artist wanted by al Qaeda: There is no way out
lkl robertson cameroon repels boko haram attack_00000326.jpg
lkl robertson cameroon repels boko haram attack_00000326.jpg
Now playing
01:59
Cameroon repels Boko Haram attack
DURHAM COUNTY SHERIFF
Now playing
03:17
Who is Craig Hicks?
Pakistani security personnel inspect a Shiite Muslim mosque after an attack by Taliban militants in Peshawar on February 13, 2015. Grenade-toting Taliban militants stormed a Shiite mosque in northwest Pakistan, police said, in an attack that left at least 18 people dead.   AFP PHOTO / A MAJEED        (Photo credit should read A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)
A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani security personnel inspect a Shiite Muslim mosque after an attack by Taliban militants in Peshawar on February 13, 2015. Grenade-toting Taliban militants stormed a Shiite mosque in northwest Pakistan, police said, in an attack that left at least 18 people dead. AFP PHOTO / A MAJEED (Photo credit should read A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:24
Pakistani Taliban kill 19 people in mosque attack
Kashmiri demonstrators hold up a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza, in downtown Srinagar on July 18, 2014. The death toll in Gaza hit 265 as Israel pressed a ground offensive on the 11th day of an assault aimed at stamping out rocket fire, medics said. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA        (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images
Kashmiri demonstrators hold up a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza, in downtown Srinagar on July 18, 2014. The death toll in Gaza hit 265 as Israel pressed a ground offensive on the 11th day of an assault aimed at stamping out rocket fire, medics said. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:14
ISIS posts video of purported mass beheading
orig shubert prophet mohammed images_00000416.jpg
orig shubert prophet mohammed images_00000416.jpg
Now playing
02:21
Why are images of the Prophet Mohammed so offensive?
AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
02:07
Danish artist faces daily threats

Story highlights

Every day last week witnessed a violent attack on people of faith

Experts on religious violence, though, say it's too soon to predict a trend

CNN —  

Whether you believe that religious violence is fueled by faith or is a symptom of larger factors – political instability, poverty, cultural chaos – one thing seems clear: Last week was hellish for religion.

Across several continents, including North America, Europe, Asia and Africa, scores of religious believers suffered and died in brutal attacks over the past seven days. Christians, Muslims and Jews alike all fell prey to assaults.

The causes of violence are complex, and reducing them to talking points only adds to the problem, scholars say. But if you want to rally troops to your side, few tools are more powerful than religion, said Michael Jerryson, co-editor of “The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence.”

“If you can turn a battle into good versus evil, or doing God’s will, you will get so much more devotion,” he told CNN. “It’s a calling that invokes more than the mundane; it raises the stakes.”

Experts in religious violence say it’s too soon to tell whether last week witnessed more terrorist attacks than usual. It often takes several months, if not longer, to tally all of the assaults in a given period of time.

Even so, the brazenness of the attacks – a gunman shooting up a cafe and a synagogue in a European capital, ISIS decapitating 21 Christians – makes the past seven days stand out as particularly brutal.

Here are just some of the assaults carried out since last Monday.

Monday

Boko Haram, the Muslim militant group based in Nigeria, attacked several towns in neighboring Cameroon, kidnapping 20 people. The Islamic extremists also detonated a car bomb in Niger, according to The Associated Press. The death toll is still unclear.

One of the world’s most deadly terrorist groups, Boko Haram threatened to continue its assaults, even as several African nations amassed armies to confront it.

“Your soldiers are infidels, and God’s soldiers are victorious,” Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader, said in a video recently posted to YouTube.

Tuesday

Craig Stephen Hicks, an ardent atheist who railed online against religion, was accused of killing three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Police said the shootings likely resulted from a long-running dispute between Hicks and his neighbors over parking spaces.

But Muslims immediately urged the Obama administration to investigate the murders as a hate crime, and the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter trended on Twitter.

Suzanne Barakat, the sister of one of the victims, said her family members were targeted because they were Muslims and that the slayings should be considered an act of terrorism.

“It’s time people call it what it is,” Barakat said.

Wednesday

ISIS, the Muslim militant group that calls itself the “Islamic State,” launched several attacks across Iraq, striking Kurdish forces in the North and Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.

At least 31 people were killed in Baghdad, including a top Sunni Muslim leader and 10 Shiite Muslims, according to international reports, as ISIS bombs exploded in several neighborhoods.

Thursday

Al Qaeda killed four Yemeni soldiers while seizing a critical military base in the town of Baihan, taking control of its weaponry, according to local security officials.

U.S. officials consider al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen, the most dangerous branch of al Qaeda. Its sworn enemies, the Houthis, have taken over the nation’s capital, throwing the country into chaos.

By Friday, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Italy closed their embassies in Yemen, following the United States and other nations.

“Yemen has turned into another failed state in the Middle East,” former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CNN, “giving al Qaeda a free hand to do what it wants.”

Friday

Boko Haram continued its cross-border attacks, killing four civilians and a soldier in neighboring Chad.

The deaths came hours after 21 people were killed in two separate attacks on Akida ‎and Mbuta villages near the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, according to residents and a local community leader.

The violence in northeast Nigeria, Boko Haram’s home base, has caused more than 157,000 people to flee into Niger, Cameroon and Chad, according to Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Also on Friday, an attack on a Shia mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, killed 19 worshippers and injured dozens of others, the U.N. reported.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, according to Reuters.

Saturday

A gunman opened fire at a free-speech forum in Copenhagen, Denmark, where a Swedish cartoonist who had depicted the Prophet Mohammed was scheduled to speak.

By the end of the melee, the gunman had wounded three officers and killed a 55-year-old man.

Hours after the cafe attack, police said, the gunman made his way to a Copenhagen synagogue and once again opened fire. Two officers were wounded, and a man providing security for a bat mitzvah party behind the synagogue died.

Danish authorities theorize that attacks may have been modeled on the assaults that killed 17 in Paris last month, and Jewish leaders say they are worried about a rising tide of anti-Semitism sweeping across the continent.

Sunday

In a new video released Sunday by ISIS, the militant group claims to have beheaded over a dozen members of Egypt’s Christian minority on a Libyan beach.

The video shows jihadists in black standing behind each of the victims, who are dressed in orange jumpsuits with their hands cuffed behind them.

The five-minute video, released by the terror group’s propaganda wing al-Hayat Media, includes a masked English-speaking jihadi who says, “The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah, we will mix it with your blood.”

All the victims are then shoved to the ground and beheaded.

CNN’s Holly Yan, Susanne Gargiulo. Laura Smith-Spark and Aminu Abubakar contributed to this report.