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Khartoum Suspected of Bombing Church to Destabilize South

ICC Note

“But I do not blame God. It is painful, and we are still confused. I am at peace because my child died worshiping God, because she loved God. We will not stop our children from worshiping God. We will go with them and, if we have to die, we will die.”

By Ron Brackin

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 Sudan (ANS) — Thursday evening, September 27, at about eight o’clock, a group of children arrived at Faith Evangelical Baptist Church—a low, 15- by 20-foot lean-to among scores of tukels. The evening worship service was to begin soon, so they gathered outside to practice songs for the year-end Christmas celebration.

Two hours later, several adults wearing white shirts arrived. Some were parents, coming to encourage their children. With them was a stranger in an SPLA (Sudan Peoples Liberation Army) uniform. Clearly, he was southern Sudanese, although he had no tribal markings. No one paid much attention to him. Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005, ending two decades of ethnic cleansing, hundreds of thousands of refugees and former soldiers were making their way home from the bush and northern camps.

The stranger slipped away from the new arrivals and walked toward the children. Some say he sang and danced with them. Others couldn’t recall.

“Who are these people singing,” the stranger asked.

“These are church people,” said one of the boys.

Just then, two other boys began to quarrel. The stranger stood behind them. One child thought he might intervene. But memories are blurry, because at that moment, the stranger slid the pin out of a hand grenade.

James Awan Khoch and his wife, Elizabeth, were awakened by the explosion. James ran to the church. The air was choked with screams, wailing and the stench of cordite. People, children running. Blood everywhere. The shredded body of the stranger. Next to it was James and Elizabeth ’s five-year-old little girl.

Achol Deng Koch lost her 12-year-old daughter.

In all, six children were murdered. Some of the wounded were taken to Malakal Teaching Hospital, three hours by boat from the little village of Khor Flus . Others, including Pastor Monykuer and the wife of Pastor Michael Makuin Kuol, remain in critical but stable condition at the hospital in Juba , the southern capital.

Government soldiers arrived soon after the attack took photographs and tried to identify the bomber. No one in the village had seen him before. They carried the corpse to all the military units. No one could identify him. They sent it to Malakal, a former GoS garrison town. As the investigation continues, the bomber remains unidentified.

Church leaders contacted Rev. Francis Ayul, who oversees a regional association of churches, which includes the congregation in Khor Flus. Pastor Francis forwarded the incoming email messages to Brad Phillips, president of the Persecution Project Foundation (PPF) in Culpeper , Virginia .

Phillips immediately contacted PPF ground staff in Kenya and Sudan , chartered a plane and flew an investigative team to Malakal, where they interviewed survivors and their families and traveled down river to Khor Flus to speak with eyewitnesses. The above account is the result of that investigation.

They also met with Area Commissioner James Yor.

Commissioner Yor said he believes the incident was a terrorist attack, part of an escalating campaign by Khartoum to destabilize the South. Murdering children was intended to demoralize the adults. The SPLA uniform would help turn the community against its own southern government. Malakal and the region surrounding it, including Khor Flus, is militarily strategic to the Islamic regime of Omar al-Bashir and furthers his interest to keep it off balance.

In response to the attack, Yor ordered that the church alert his office before conducting nighttime meetings, that attendance be limited to 10 and that armed security be provided.

The families in Khor Flus say the attack has not weakened their faith.

“I cannot put in my head that I will die,” said Achol Deng Koch, whose daughter is buried beside their home. “I cannot abandon my God. I will continue going to my church and worshiping.”

“We still will follow Jesus,” James Awan Khoch said, “and we will teach our sons to follow Jesus.”

“I cannot understand why my daughter died that way,” said his wife, Elizabeth, “but I do not blame God. It is painful, and we are still confused. I am at peace because my child died worshiping God, because she loved God. We will not stop our children from worshiping God. We will go with them and, if we have to die, we will die.”

Since 1997, PPF has worked to bring crisis relief and spiritual hope to the victims of civil war, genocide and religious persecution throughout Africa .

Its ministries in Southern Sudan include Radio PEACE, Sudan ’s premier Christian radio station; Nakwatom Heritage Academy , which cares for more than 800 displaced, disabled and orphaned children; pastor and evangelist training programs and a humanitarian compound in Jach, which cares for more than 60,000 survivors of the genocide in Darfur .