In the past month, at least 100 people have been killed by an Islamic extremist group in a series of attacks in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A large number of those killed were Christians.
On 14 January, approximately 46 people were killed in Ituri province by militants who are believed to be part of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The community that was attacked belongs to the Pygmy ethnic group – there are about half a million people belonging to this ethnic group in DRC, and they face extensive persecution and discrimination.
On 4 January, an estimated 22 civilians were killed in an overnight raid on the village of Mwenda, in the Beni region of neighbouring North Kivu province. A community leader reported that guns and machetes were used, and that at least 17 nearby villagers had been murdered with machetes a week earlier. Around the same time, the ADF killed another 25 people in the village of Tingwe, in the same region. Unlike the Ituri province attack, most of those killed in these three attacks were Christians.
“These predominantly Christian communities are attacked by an Islamic extremist group with a clear Islamic expansionist agenda,” says Illia Djadi, an Open Doors spokesperson on freedom of religion or belief in sub-Saharan Africa. “It is a reminder of what is happening in other parts of the central Sahel region – groups like Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria, for example. The ideology, the agenda of establishing a 'caliphate' in the region, and the way they operate is the same, and we can see how they afflict terrible suffering on innocent people."
DRC has a very high percentage of Christians, at over 95 per cent of the population, but Islamic extremist violence has soared over the past year and continues to worsen. This is the main reason that DRC is at number 40 on the Open Doors World Watch List 2021, up from number 57 the previous year. The violence that Christians face in this country is among the very worst in the world – it’s only the (relatively) low levels of persecution in other spheres of life that mean DRC isn’t even higher on the World Watch List.
"We urgently call on the national government and the international community to do everything they can to protect innocent lives" Illia Djadi, Open Doors
The ADF is a militant Islamic group with a clear mission of attacking, kidnapping and killing Christians, as well as training and sending jihadists to other countries in Africa. The group was formed in 1996, merging several existing rebel groups, and initially focused its destructive action on Uganda. More recently, it has expanded into DRC. In October 2019, the army in DRC started an offensive against the group – and, since then, the ADF have scaled up the number and intensity of their attacks.
"A war has been declared against the DRC," says Carly Nzanzu Kasivita, a governor of North Kivu. He called for a ‘national and international mobilisation’ to combat the ongoing violence. A UN report from 2020 agreed that the situation is dire, suggesting that ‘widespread, systematic and extremely brutal’ human rights abuses by the ADF ‘could constitute, by their nature and scope, crimes against humanity and war crimes’.
The UN's Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, adds that the ADF is connected to other jihadist groups across Africa. “In my opinion the ADF today is part of a network that starts in Libya and stretches to the Sahel, to the Lake Chad region, and which is present in Mozambique," he told RFI. The ADF has not formally linked itself with so-called Islamic State (IS), but IS has started to claim responsibility for some of the attacks by ADF and has called Congo the ‘Central Africa Province’ of the ‘caliphate’.
“We need to pay attention to these events because what is happening in eastern DRC, the killing of innocent civilians on an almost daily basis, is an underreported tragedy," says Illia Djadi. “We want to raise the alarm and we urgently call on the national government and the international community to do everything they can to protect innocent lives and to restore peace in this troubled region.”
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