Foreign jihadis have been implicated in an attack on Our Lady Fatima Catholic Church in the Km 5 district of Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR), on 28 May that left 18 people dead, including 78-year-old priest Paul-Emile Nzale.
According to eyewitness reports, the attack began with grenades being thrown into the church compound followed by 30 minutes of sustained and indiscriminate gunfire. At the time of the attack, the church was sheltering approximately 5000 internally displaced people and was a place of refuge for both Christians and Muslims. Eyewitness also report their assailants spoke in English and took at least 42 people as hostages, some of whom may have been killed.
Seleka has long been known to include Chadians and Sudanese amongst its ranks, however in February 2014, following extensive international media coverage in which anti-Balaka forces were described as 'Christian militia'; Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened to avenge what he termed the massacre in the CAR of Muslims by Christians. Subsequently, several hundred Fulanis were reported to have arrived in northern CAR in vehicles, on horses and on foot during the week beginning 21 April.
In a comment to the Catholic news agency Fides regarding the sighting of foreign jihadis in the Km 5 area, Bishop Nestor Desire Nongo-Aziagbia, Bishop of Bossangoa, said: 'Although the authorities pretend not to notice, many Central Africans know that jihadists terrorists from Sudan and Nigeria have infiltrated into the Seleka and are now in the Km 5 district. Likening the anti-Balaka to Christians, the western media offered these criminals a perfect means of propaganda.'
Following the attack on Our Lady Fatima Catholic Church, young people took to the streets of Bangui on 29 May protesting the lack of protection offered by troops belonging to the International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA). Some protesters, rumoured to be members of the anti-Balaka militia, looted and vandalised a mosque in the Lakouanga neighbourhood. However, there were no reported casualties.
The attack on Our Lady Fatima Church comes at the end of a week of reconciliation organised by Churches in Bangui, bringing Christian and Muslim communities together. While the anti-Balaka groups have been generally described as Christian militia, their actions have been condemned by the Church in CAR, which is calling for peace, the disarming of all armed groups and national reconciliation.
Father Nzale's death is the latest incident amid a targeting of clergy. Over Easter, Father Chris Forman Willibona and Reverend Thomas Ndakouzou were killed in separate attacks on 18 April and 19 April respectively. The Bishop of Bossangoa, Monsignor Nestor-Desire Nongo Aziagbia was kidnapped on 16 April with three Catholic clergymen by Seleka militants. The clergymen were eventually released near the Chadian border after the intervention of the international community. In Bangui, The Apostolic Church of Gbaya Domia and the Dombia Baptist Church were attacked on 8 April and 17 April respectively.
In April, the UN Security Council voted in favour of sending a 12,000-strong UN Peacekeeping force to CAR in September 2014 to bolster security across the whole country and help to steer the interim government to institute democratic elections by early 2015.
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said, 'Our condolences, thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who have lost their lives. CSW condemns the senseless attack on unarmed and vulnerable civilians and deplores the targeting and destruction of places of worship, regardless of their creed. We appeal for adequate protection of facilities housing internally displaced populations and continue to echo the calls of religious leaders in the country who are working tirelessly towards reconciliation in the face of relentless atrocities. We also call for increased assistance for the administration of Interim President Samba-Panza in its efforts to disarm the various militia groups, to encourage reconciliation and facilitate the return of one million displaced citizens to their homes.'
For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.csw.org.uk.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.