Gunmen open fire on churchgoers in series of attacks in Sudan

Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

In a series of attacks on places of worship in Sudan, gunmen opened fire on churchgoers before looting a Coptic church and ousting all clergy from another church last weekend, the U.K.-based group Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported.

Six assailants arrived by car and opened fire on four churchgoers, including Priest Arsenius and his son, at Al-Masalma Coptic Church in Omdurman last Saturday, CSW said in a statement, adding that the church’s guard was stabbed during the two-hour looting spree.

The wounded victims, however, have reportedly recuperated following treatment at a private medical facility. Access to the area’s largest hospital remained blocked due to its current occupation by the Rapid Support Forces (formerly known as the Janjaweed militia).

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In a separate incident, the RSF ousted all clergy from Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church, including Bishop Elia of Khartoum and South Sudan, last Sunday.

This forceful eviction was reportedly to convert the church premises into a military base, CSW said, adding that the RSF had allegedly subjected the church to a week-long intimidation campaign before enforcing the eviction.

Earlier, on May 3, a similar incident occurred at the Coptic Church in Khartoum North.

Meanwhile, mosques have not been spared the surging violence, with the Al Zareeba mosque in El Geneina, West Darfur, suffering a bombing on Sunday.

The area, witnessing particularly severe fighting, has seen 280 fatalities and over 160 injuries between May 12-13, according to the Preliminary Committee of the Sudan Doctor’s Trade Union.

Reports also note bombings at mosques in Alazhari and Burri Al Daraisa in Khartoum, leading to a fatality in the latter.

Rival sections of Sudan’s military government — the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces — have been involved in an armed conflict since April 15, leading to skirmishes in several cities. The strife around the capital, Khartoum, and the volatile Darfur region has been most intense.

As the hostilities persist, the casualty count has been alarming. The conflict has claimed the lives of up to 1,000 individuals and caused injuries to thousands of others.

About 200,000 people have fled Sudan, and another 700,000 have been internally displaced by the conflict, according to The Guardian

In response to the escalating crisis, the United Nations Human Rights Council expanded the mandate of the designated Expert of the High Commissioner on human rights in Sudan last week. The enhanced directive includes a comprehensive assessment and documentation of all purported human rights violations since the military coup of Oct. 25, 2021.

On the same day, SAF and RSF representatives pledged to protect Sudanese civilians, signing a Declaration of Commitment in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The agreement includes provisions for the secure delivery of humanitarian aid, restoring essential services, evacuating military forces from hospitals and ensuring respectful burials for the deceased.

CSW’s Founding President Mervyn Thomas strongly denounced the attacks on religious sites, stating, “The intentional attacks on clergy, the bombing of houses of worship, and seizures of religious buildings for use as military bases violate international human rights and humanitarian law, and are among a litany of violations which may amount to war crimes.”

Thomas commended the signing of the Jeddah commitment but insisted that its adherence was critical. He called for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire and stressed that achieving a peaceful democratic transition was the only effective political solution for Sudan. This, he added, could be accomplished through the promotion and protection of human rights, along with the meaningful involvement of civil society in transition negotiations.

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