Republic Alert

Churches, Mosques, and Hospitals Attacked as Junta Showdown Continues

Sudan’s Radio Dabanga reported Monday that churches, mosques, and hospitals in the capital city of Khartoum were attacked over the weekend as the war between two factions of the ruling military junta continued.

“A Coptic Church was attacked on Sunday morning. Four people were hit by bullets and a priest was assaulted. Mosques were bombed. Two hospitals were raided, reportedly by the members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF),” Radio Dabanga reported.

The RSF is the junta faction controlled by Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, a brutal militia that grew from the infamous Janjaweed gangs that formed in the 1980s under dictator Omar al-Bashir.

Many of the early Janjaweed fighters were merchants and camel traders banding together to protect their property. The name means “devils on horseback,” referring to their origins as irregular cavalry. Dagalo himself was a school dropout who made his living as a camel trader in Darfur before turning to militia warfare after his family trade caravan was attacked and massacred by bandits.

Bashir had the idea to organize the disparate Janjaweed groups and bring them together as a deputized force that could be deployed against his enemies. In 2013, he tapped Dagalo to head the renamed Rapid Support Forces, and their status was codified in the Sudanese constitution the following year.

The RSF proceed to accumulate a horrifying record of human rights abuses in Darfur, using rape, robbery, and murder as tactics against both rebels and peaceful demonstrators. The robbery tactic was particularly beneficial to Dagalo, who was given special authorization by Bashir to sell gold seized in RSF raids. The former camel trader soon became one of the richest men in Sudan.

Dagalo joined forces with the commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, to force Bashir from power in 2019. The two formed a working relationship after Bashir deployed both SAF and RSF forces to fight as part of the Saudi-led Gulf Arab coalition against the Iran-backed Houthi insurgency in Yemen.

Sudanese government after the fall of Bashir was presented as a partnership between the military and a “Sovereign Council” with both military and civilian members, a transitional arrangement that was supposed to lead back to democracy and civilian rule. Burhan and Dagalo teamed up to overthrow that arrangement in October 2021, ruling thereafter as a straightforward military junta.

The junta leaders had a severe falling-out in April, each having recruited different international backers to support a bid for total power. Burhan ostensibly supports a three-year transition plan back to civilian rule, but his critics strongly doubt he will voluntarily relinquish power.

Some Sudanese observers believe the conflict between Burhan and Dagalo was stoked by “remnants” of the Bashir regime who hope they can use the chaos to seize control of Sudan. Dagalo’s supporters often accuse Burhan of being an agent of the Bashir remnant, seeking to restore the Islamist regime with himself as the new dictator-for-life.

As for Bashir, he has been parked in a military hospital since the RSF attacked the prison where he has been held since 2019, with an eye toward either freeing him or murdering him, depending on who one asks. Dagalo claims the RSF attacked the prison in a last-ditch attempt to prevent Burhan from restoring the old dictator to his throne.

The rivalry between the two military leaders does not need much stoking, as each has vowed to hunt down and kill the other. The vicious civil war, slowed only the smallest bit by a humanitarian “cease-fire” agreement, has displaced some 700,000 people, destroyed over a million doses of polio vaccine intended for children, and driven most foreigners out of the country.

According to Radio Dabanga, both factions blamed each other for the rash of weekend violence against houses of worship:

The Democratic Lawyers Front reported yesterday that the Mar Girgis (St George) Church in El Musalma in old Omdurman was attacked at dawn on Sunday.

The lawyers said in a statement that the attack was carried out by an armed group riding in an ordinary vehicle. They shot at the people present. Three worshippers were hit in the leg, the church guard was shot in his abdomen.

The priest, assistant bishop Anba Sarabamon was assaulted. He sustained several fractures. His residence at the church premises was destroyed and his car was stolen. The attackers raided the elderly women residence and the dormitory for young women from abroad a nd robbed them of their money and mobile telephones.

The Coptic Christians were fairly certain the attack on their church was the work of the RSF, while the RSF claimed it was a false-flag operation perpetrated by an “extremist” wing of Burhan’s military.

Two hospitals were raided over the weekend, including a cardiac and kidney surgery hospital. The Burhan-controlled Ministry of Foreign Affairs blamed the RSF for the medical raids, claiming militia fighters “assaulted the staff, terrorized patients, and stole the ambulances.

Parts of Khartoum came under heavy bombardment on Sunday, along with its sister cities of Bahri and Omdurman. Burhan gave an order on Sunday to freeze the bank accounts of the RSF and every company accused of helping it. He also sacked central bank governor Hussain Yahia Jankol for unspecified reasons.

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