The Central African Republic was stunned following a brutal attack on a church Wednesday. The attack, which left more than 30 churchgoers dead, took place at Notre Dame de Fatima, a Roman Catholic church situated approximately five kilometres from the centre of Bangui. The Islamic militants who perpetrated the attack are allegedly affiliated with Seleka, a radical Islamic insurgency group which ruled the Central African Republic from March 2013 until it was ousted from power in January of this year.
Bangui is currently the site of much unrest, and hundreds of civilians had reportedly sought shelter within the walls of Notre Dame de Fatima before the attack occurred. Reverend Freddy Mboula, who was present at the time of the massacre, said that the gunfire lasted for about 30 minutes, and was preceded by militants hurling grenades over the walls of the church and into the gardens below. Reverend Paul Emile Nzale confirmed the estimated death toll of 30 people, and a AP reporter allegedly saw at least 20 bodies in one of the hospitals where the victims were being sent.
The crisis currently taking place in the Central African Republic has been described as an ethnic cleansing, although local church leaders say it is nothing more than a hijacking of religious sentiments. This religious tension has developed over the course of several years, partially because of the Islamic violence perpetrated under Seleka, violence which has continued even after Seleka was removed from power. This religious violence has caused the displacement of an estimated 1 million people, with 100,000 people estimated to be living in refugee camps in southern Chad. Catherine Samba Panza, the interim president, has been given the task of organizing an election in early 2015, although this task has been complicated by the fact that Seleka rebels have destroyed many of the voting lists through their insurgency.
The recent target by Islamic militants in the Central African Republic left many Christian militants stunned following the church attack on the outskirts of Bangui, but they have now begun to respond, leading to increasing tension. Christian militants have been erecting barricades on the roads surrounding Bangui in an effort to prevent the perpetrators from leaving the area, but the response has not been limited to this. Witnesses have reported that youth from the anti-Balaka, Christian militias originally formed in the 1990s, plundered a mosque in Bangui, and that they have barricaded streets with burning tyres. Sebastien Wenezoui, one of the leaders of the anti-Balaka, blamed the severity of Wednesday’s attack on international peace-keeping forces, saying that Burundian and French soldiers should have responded to the attack more quickly.
Thursday’s attack took place in the neighborhood of Lakouanga, and no fatalities have been reported as of yet. However, tensions have escalated significantly, as has been demonstrated by the increased international presence on the streets of Bangui. A French helicopter was reported flying over the city, and peace-keeping forces were reportedly forced to fire warning shots when protesting crowds hurled slogans at the forces who they claim have failed to protect them. Religious tensions have been raised even higher in the already volatile Central African Republic, leaving many stunned after this latest church attack by Islamic militants.
By Nicholas Grabe