The number of Christian martyrs was twice as high in 2013 as the year before, and radical Islamist governments and groups are responsible for the vast majority of deaths and persecution around the world, according to the 2014 World Watch List.

As WND reported, Open Doors USA, which assists the persecuted church around the world, compiled the World Watch list and reports 2,123 Christians were killed for their faith last year, compared to 1,201 in 2012. In fact, the killings in Syria alone (1,213) trumped the total from a year earlier.

“The target of violence is mainly taking place mainly from rebel groups who are Islamic extremists, so these are jihadists practicing extreme Islam and are targeting Christian areas,” said Emily Fuentes, communications director at Open Doors USA. “Many of these Christians have had to flee, and these towns have essentially become ghost towns because they’ve cleared Christians out. In October of last year, there was a massacre in one of these towns where more than 45 people died and hundreds were injured just because it was a Christian-dominated town.

“Syria is experiencing a whole new level of persecution and violence of Christians,” said Fuentes, noting that Syria is now the third worst persecutor of Christians, skyrocketing from the 36th spot it held just two years ago.

While Syria is the most deadly spot on earth for Christians, Fuentes said it fits a pattern in the Islamic world. She noted, of the 50 worst nations for persecution, 37 of them are Muslim. Fuentes said another disturbing twist is the melding of radical Islam with communist and other totalitarian ideologies.

“Some of (Christians in persecuted nations) experience different forms of persecution or combined forms of persecution. An example would be some of the central Asian countries, like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and all those. You might still see persecution that comes from the the former days of the USSR, a little bit of lingering communism, where the government is sending officials to monitor churches and monitor any Christian activities and secretly spying on Christians and using governmental tactics,” Fuentes said.

“But you’re also seeing extreme Islam blended into that. So not only are they worried about the government, but they’re worried about sections of the government that are Islamic extremists or groups that are Islamic extremists coming in to attack them,” she said.

Nine of the worst 10 nations for Christians are Islamic. In addition to Syria in third slot, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran and Yemen are among the worst of the worst.

But for 12 years running now, the communist North Korean regime is at the top of the list, and Fuentes said things there are only getting worse there.

“It is the most hostile place to be a Christian. It is an act punishable by death in North Korea to be a Christian, either by execution sometimes on the spot or execution very soon after finding out about your faith,” said Fuentes, who explained that those who are not killed are sent to Nazi-like concentration camps. She also said the pain inflicted by the regime goes far beyond the Christians themselves.

“The moral dilemma that North Korean Christians have that’s unlike any other place in the world is that if their faith is discovered, not only them but up to three generations of their family could be forced to go to these labor camps. So that’s their parents, their children, their grandchildren, all because of their faith in Christ,” she said.

The biggest movers on this year’s list were the Central African Republic, leaping to 16th after not even being on the list last year, and Mali, which dropped from seventh in 2012 to 33rd this year. Fuentes said although it is a majority Christian nation, Islamic groups have infiltrated the cities and have been targeting Christians for death. She said 13 pastors have been slain there in just the past couple of months.

Mali is the opposite story. International military action rooted many radical Islamists from that nation and greater religious freedom has emerged, although Fuentes hastens to add that any nation on the list is a nightmare for believers.

Fuentes said the annual World Watch List is designed for multiple purposes, including the desire to attract more media attention to the surge of persecution around the world, alert public officials to address these problems and inform pastors and believers around the nation. However, she said all of those take a backseat to the No. 1 goal.

“The No. 1 thing that persecuted Christians ask for in every country is our prayers. It’s not Bibles. It’s not money. It’s prayers, and they know that prayer is the most powerful thing. It can change the hearts of leaders who may not be as drawn to sharing the message of persecuted Christians. It can even change the heart of dictators like Kim Jong-Un,” Fuentes said.

The following is the full list:

1) North Korea
2)  Somalia
3)  Syria
4)  Iraq
5)  Afghanistan
6)  Saudi Arabia
7)  Maldives
8)  Pakistan
9)  Iran
10) Yemen
11) Sudan
12) Eritrea
13) Libya
14) Nigeria
15) Uzbekistan
16) Central African Republic
17) Ethiopia
18) Vietnam
19) Qatar
20) Turkmenistan
21) Laos
22) Egypt
23) Myanmar (Burma)
24) Brunei
25) Colombia
26) Jordan
27) Oman
28) India
29) Sri Lanka
30) Tunisia
31) Bhutan
32) Algeria
33) Mali
34) Palestinian Territories
35) United Arab Emirates
36) Mauritania
37) China
38) Kuwait
39) Kazakhstan
40) Malaysia
41) Bahrain
42) Comoros
43) Kenya
44) Morocco
45) Tajikistan
46) Djibouti
47) Indonesia
48) Bangladesh
49) Tanzania
50) Niger

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