Church attack in Central African Republic (May 30, 2014)

Gunmen associated with the Muslim Seleka in Central African Republic massacred at least 11 people who were taking shelter in a church from street fighting.

The number of occasions on which terrorists from one religion attack another is sadly high.

BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC – I’d wager that the Central African Republic (CAR) does not register high on anyone’s radar. Not even those who specialise in Africa. Like many nations on that continent it is a former French colony which is not in good shape (NB I know that Western occupation did indeed lead to many ills and atrocities, but can we please acknowledge that in most cases decades of independence have given us brutal dictators and others, much of which should not be blamed on the West?)

So for most of you it is probably dismissed as yet another African nation suffering from poor governance, poverty, the effects of climate change, etc. In this you would not be wrong as it is indeed beset with all those problems.

To this we have to add what sure looks like a terrorism one as well.

When it comes to conflict across Africa there are many different types, as my recent podcasts have taken a stab at illustrating. Some are best seen as civil wars between ethnic, racial or socioeconomic groups. Others are driven by disputes over land such as that between the Dogon (farmers) and Fulani (herders) in many parts of the Sahel (northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, central Mali, northern Burkina Faso, the extreme south of Algeria, Niger, the extreme north of Nigeria, the extreme north of Cameroon and Central African Republic, central Chad, central and southern Sudan).

The Seleka

And some are definitely tied to terrorism (religious with perhaps an ethnonationalist hue). That is what I think is going on in the CAR. A group called the Seleka (Bango for ‘coalition’) took control briefly in 2013 before they were ousted in September when their leader, Michel Djotodia, became president. The Seleka then went on a killing rampage across the country, leading to UN and French interventions. For the record, the Seleka were largely Muslim in a nation that is largely Christian. As an aside, I do talk more about these characters in my third book The Lesser Jihads.

Christian fighters who called themselves ‘anti-balaka’ (‘invincible’ in Sango) rose to fight the Seleka. As of today, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, “ex-Seleka and anti-balaka militias along with hundreds of other localised groups operate openly and control as much as two-thirds of the CAR’s territory.

Numerous attacks have also been carried out against UN peacekeepers and humanitarian workers; fifteen peacekeepers were killed in the CAR in 2017 and six peacekeepers have been killed in attacks by various armed groups in 2018.

Places of worship as sanctuary

As often happens when rivals of different religions clash, places of worship are targeted. On this day in 2014 members of the Seleka threw grenades before shooting indiscriminately at the Church of Fatima in the capital Bangui, killing at least 11 people. The attack on the church followed hours of fighting in a neighborhood of Bangui: eyewitnesses said those inside the Catholic church were seeking shelter from the clashes.

Whatever happened to places of worship as sanctuary? Has no one ever seen film versions of Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame??

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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