16 killed, Catholic church burned by suspected Islamic rebels in DRC attack

Three Congolese ride a motorbike and carry a cross for a grave along the road linking Mangina to Beni on August 23, 2018, in Mangina, in the North Kivu province.
Three Congolese ride a motorbike and carry a cross for a grave along the road linking Mangina to Beni on August 23, 2018, in Mangina, in the North Kivu province. | JOHN WESSELS/AFP via Getty Images

A suspected Islamic extremist group raid resulted in the deaths of 13 civilians and three soldiers, as well as the burning of a Catholic church on Sunday morning in the northeastern Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to an initial assessment. 

Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamic terrorist group, was blamed by an army spokesperson for being behind the deadly massacre in Ndakya village.

But the group’s involvement is not yet confirmed, according to Reuters. ADF has been prevalent in the area since the 1990s and killed around 850 people in 2020, according to a United Nations estimate.

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Christophe Munyanderu, the coordinator of the Convention for the Respect of Human Rights, told the news agency that gunmen opened fire upon entering the village Sunday morning. 

Army spokesperson Jules Ngongo Tshikudi stated that military troops are now occupying the village and four perpetrators were killed. 

The United States-based persecuted church advocacy group International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for Africa Nathan Johnson said there is lots of violence in eastern DRC due to over 100 active rebel groups in the region. 

He said ADF is one of the largest, most active militant groups and is believed to have ties to the Islamic State terrorist organization. 

“The attacks are daily,” Johnson told CP. “There is vast underreporting.”

Even though DRC’s population is around 95% Christian, violence from Islamic extremism continually worsens, especially in the eastern region.

Johnson said many Islamic militant groups aim to create an Islamic caliphate, which is difficult because the Christian population outnumbers them. He contends that many of the attacks are conducted to “terrorize people and gain power in the area.”

Johnson said several hundred had been killed already this year. The U.N. reported last July that intensified ADF attacks in the previous 18 months had resulted in over 1,000 people's deaths and could amount to crimes against humanity. 

“I ask for people to pray for those who have been killed and for their families,” Johnson said. “That’s the No. 1 thing we’re always asked for when we’re overseas is [for] prayer for them and their families.”

Due to Islamic oppression, DRC is ranked No. 40 for Christian persecution on the 2021 Open Doors USA World Watch List, which ranks countries for their severity of persecution. This is the first time DRC ranked in the top 50. The country was ranked No. 57 last year.

“Those rebel groups are just creating chaos, but people don’t know that because nobody reports on it,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the DRC government and military have had very little control in the eastern region for years and have largely been pushed hundreds of miles to the west toward the capital city of Kinshasa. 

This is due to the high volume of rebel groups being pushed into eastern DRC from the neighboring countries of Uganda and Rwanda, especially during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

“One of the things you’ll find is that the Western world really doesn’t care too much about what goes on in Africa, specifically countries like DRC where there’s just mass amounts of violence,” Johnson asserted. “Civil wars have been continuous basically for decades. The Western world doesn’t care, ... neither do news agencies who are going to be getting money from what they report.”

After attacks in the DRC in late December and early January, Open Doors’ Senior Analyst for Freedom of Religion or Belief in Sub-Saharan South Africa Illia Djadi said the DRC violence needs more attention. He said the majority of deaths in the DRC are believers.

“These predominately Christian communities are attacked by an Islamic extremist group with a clear Islamic expressionist agenda,” Djadi told Baptist Press. “We need to pay attention to these events because what’s happening in eastern DRC, the killing of innocent civilians on an almost daily basis, is an underreported tragedy.”

In a late January report, Open Doors reported that Islamic extremists had killed at least 100 people, mostly Christians, in eastern DRC in 15 days. 

Last October, suspected Islamic extremists reportedly killed at least 18 people and burned down a church along with several homes in the North Kivu province.

According to the Kivu Security Tracker, "at least 10” civilians were killed when suspected ADF extremists attacked Kalembo, a town in the Beni area of the North Kivu province, on Monday. 

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