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Local Islamist Movement Massacred in Chad after Threatening Holy War

ICC Note

At the beginning of this month, an Islamic extremist group carried out attacks in the town of Kouno . The Islamists, who declared Jihad against Christians, destroyed four churches in the town. This is another indication of how Islamic extremism is growing quickly in Africa and how it is fueling the persecution of Christians in the continent.

By Andrew McGregor

07/16/2008 Chad (The Jamestown Foundation)-An alleged rising led by an Islamic preacher in the oil-rich southern region of Chad was repressed with great loss of life by government forces in the first days of July. The incident in the town of Kouno came in response to calls for an international jihad from Ahmat Ismail Bichara, a fiery 28-year-old religious leader, and the destruction of most of the town by his followers. Kouno lies over 300 km (190 miles) southeast of the capital of N’Djamena, on the Chari River near Sarh (formerly Fort Archambault ), the capital of Chad ’s Moyen-Chari province. The main ethnic group in the region is the non-Muslim Sara, most of whom follow traditional animist religions. A small minority of Sara became Christians during the French colonial era. Kouno was the site of a major battle between French colonial forces and the freebooting Muslim army of Rabih al-Zubayr in 1899. Today Kouno lies in the midst of Chad ’s newly productive southern oil fields. Most of Chad ’s Muslims live in the north and east of the country as well as the capital near the western border, but small communities of Muslims can be found throughout the south, where they generally live in harmony with the non-Muslim majority in the region.

Ahmat Mamahat Bachir , Chad ’s Minister of the Interior, described the preacher and his followers as “terrorists” and “extremists,” adding that Bichara was a “typical suicide guru” (al-Jazeera, July 2; AFP, July 2). Bichara issued a manifesto declaring his jihad on June 3, calling on local Muslims to join a campaign against “Christians and atheists” that would extend as far as Denmark, where cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad were published in 2006 (TchadActuel, July 3). The confrontation came after Bichara rejected the advice of envoys from Chad ’s Higher Council of Islamic Affairs.

After Bichara’s followers went on a rampage in Kouno, destroying four churches, 158 homes, a medical clinic and a police station, government forces decided to respond in force. The preacher, who took down the Chadian flag over the local administration building and replaced it with a banner proclaiming “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his Prophet,” refused all efforts to negotiate with security services, claiming he was an emissary from God. The government assault apparently began as Bichara’s followers were listening to what was described as an inflammatory sermon. Other accounts suggest that Bichara’s people attacked the security forces, which used firearms only after tear gas failed to disperse the would-be jihadis (AFP, July 2).

Independent accounts of the fighting are not available, but Chad ’s security minister described Bichara’s followers as “intoxicated by indescribable extremism almost mad” as they “threw themselves” against the fire of security forces in the belief they were immune to bullets (Reuters, July 2). The “clubs, poisoned arrows and swords” used by Bichara’s followers proved to be of little avail against the gunfire of government troops, nor did the amulets that were supposed to provide protection from bullets save those who were hit. The use of such amulets in the region goes back to the very first encounters with firearms—despite a distinctly poor track record in deflecting lead they continue to find a place around the necks of local fighters. The number of dead was given variously as somewhere between 66 and 72, with over 50 seriously wounded. Four security men were killed and four wounded in two days of fighting.

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