April 22, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – A pastor in the Sudanese capital Khartoum confirmed that a group of Islamic fundamentalists attacked his church over the weekend and set it on fire.
- FILE - A man prays during Easter Sunday service at Episcopal Church of the Sudan Diocese of Khartoum All Saints Cathedral in Khartoum April 24, 2011 (Reuters)
"They burned Bibles and torched the school for training clergy on the farm, as well as the residence of the students," Pastor Yusuf Matar Kodi told Agence France Presse (AFP).
Supporters of the group led by hard-line figure Muhammad Abdel-Kareem gathered at 60th Street, a main road of Khartoum, and marched towards the Evangelical Church located in the Sawafi area.
They were met by Sudanese security forces which surrounded the church and prevented the group from entering it by imposing a cordon.
However, some individuals from the group managed to sneak through the barrier and set the church on fire.
The church contains a home for the elderly, clinic, educational classrooms and houses students as well as monks.
Three worship halls that served as public churches were also destroyed, Kodi said, blaming the attack on Islamic extremists.
"They are the only people who do such things," Kodi said. "Bulldozers came inside the farm and removed some trees that have been there for 100 years" he added.
Kodi said he thinks the assault was linked to the government’s announcement on Friday that its forces had defeated South Sudanese troops who had occupied the Heglig oilfield for 10 days.
The pastor claimed said the church has owned the land for a century, but local authorities announced one month ago that they wanted it for a garden and playing field.
"Then last Friday the imam of the nearest mosque, in his speech, called the people to go early Saturday and take this land from the church," Kodi said.
A lawyer for the church, Abdel-Moneim Adam, said he has asked for a police investigation into the church attack.
In London a senior official with Darfur’s rebels the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) said that president Omer Hassan al-Bashir is personally responsible for the incident.
“Bashir has worked to create a reign of terror based on religion and race. He has made many remarks inciting an atmosphere of racial and religious intolerance," said JEM external relations adviser Ahmed Hussein Adam.
“Anyone who thinks that the incident is isolated is wrong. These [extremist] groups are controlled by the National Congress Party (NCP). They unleash them to show the international community what could happen if the regime is ousted. It is their tactic when they feel weakened" Adam said.
The JEM official said his movement condemns “in the strongest possible terms” the church attack adding that it is a clear violation of the universal principle of religious freedom.