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Khalil Ibrahim

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Khalil Ibrahim

Name: Khalil Ibrahim

Career: Former leader of Darfur rebel group the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) who was killed by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in December 2011.

He was replaced by his brother Gibril Ibrahim.

Born: 1957, Tine, Darfur, Sudan

Died: 25 December 2011, North Kordofan, Sudan


Before his death at the hands of government military forces in North Kordofan in 2011, Khalil Ibrahim was the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement, probably the most coherent of the various rebel factions in Darfur.

He was born in the village of Tine on the border between Chad and Sudan, and like the Chadian president and erstwhile JEM-backer Idris Deby, hailed from the Zaghawa ethnic group (although Khalil is a Zaghawa Kobe and Deby a Zaghawa Bideyat).


Khalil, who was related to many of the Sultans of the Zaghawa Kobe, travelled to the big towns to complete his education, studying at al-Fashir secondary school and then obtaining a degree in medicine from al-Jazira university in central Sudan in 1984. Like many Darfuris isolated by the secular ways of urban Sudan, he joined the Islamic Movement’s student wing (‘The Islamic Way’, or al-Ittijah al-Islami) during his secondary school years.

Khalil first joined the government in 1989 directly after Omar al-Bashir’s coup, and having returned from working abroad in Saudi Arabia to share the success of his comrades in the Islamic Movement he obtained a post at Omdurman General Hospital. It was in this period that he married a wife from Wad Rabi’i in al-Jazira state. A number of his children from this marriage still live in Central Sudan, and the eldest of them studies law at Khartoum University. Following this position, Khalil obtained a series of state level portfolios, in Darfur, Blue Nile and the South. He is believed to have grown close to the Islamic movement’s mercurial leader Hasan al-Turabi at this time, acting as a kind of spokesman for Darfuri grievances.

Military and political career

Khalil was also heavily involved in the battle against the SPLA. In 1991, he helped to arrest Daud Yahya Bolad, a former Darfuri Islamist who became disillusioned by NIF racism and invaded Darfur on behalf of the SPLA. Given that Khalil was destined to follow a political path highly similar to that of Bolad, his participation in the arrest that led to his death is custody was highly ironic. Khalil was also believed to have led a Popular Defence Force battalion in Juba in between 1993 and 1994.

Critics observe that this demonstrated his lack of sympathy with the marginalized peoples of Sudan, although friends claim that this was the moment Khalil first began to identify with the southern rebels and believe they had a case. It was at this time that he first seems to have begun considering that the Islamic Movement was in need of reformation so as to confront the favouritism of ethnic northerners. As minister of social affairs in Blue Nile, he fired his northern Sudanese staff, including a cousin of Omar al-Bashir’s, and replaced them with local recruits.

Split from the government

Khalil appears to have split decisively with the government at the same time as his mentor Hasan al-Turabi, who was dismissed from his post of speaker of parliament by Omar al-Bashir in 1999. From around this time, whilst undertaking an MA thesis in the Netherlands, he began to form the secret cells that would provide the nucleus of the Justice and Equality Movement, the establishment of which was declared from Europe in 2001. It incorporated several members of militias who had served under Khalil when he was close to al-Turabi in the 1990s.

The movement’s manifesto is believed to be the Black Book, an anonymous publication released secretly in Khartoum in 2000 which condemned the marginalization of Darfuris and other non-riverain groups within the government. This publication was anti-separatist, but demanded social democracy, constitutional reform, and regional empowerment. Khalil has also been known to suggest a rotational presidency, arguing that if Iraq could have a Kurdish president Sudan could have a Darfuri one. Unlike the other rebel groups in Darfur, JEM did not have a secularist agenda, the Black Book proposing that Muslims should have the option to choose sharia if they wished.

Darfur Conflict

When JEM, like other rebel groups in Darfur, took up arms against the government in 2003, some analysts claimed that the conflict in Sudan’s Western periphery was being driven by the conflict at the centre, with Khalil acting as a proxy for his old mentor Hasan al-Turabi. Khalil himself strenuously denied this, insisting that al-Turabi was the ‘first enemy’ and the man responsible for Darfur’s problems in the first place.

Initially the JEM was less militarily prominent that the other major rebel faction, the SLA, but up until Khalil’s death it had greater success in avoiding factionalism. This is in spite – or perhaps because of – the fact that Ibrahim’s Zaghawa kinsmen dominated the movement, although Masalit, Meidob, Berti, Erenga and Chadian Daju have also been involved. Ibrahim rejected both the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 and the Darfur Peace Agreement of 2006, the former on the grounds that it did not offer enough to the marginalized minorities of the North.

JEM attack on Omdurman

He came closest to unsettling the government when JEM forces raided Omdurman in 2008, although they were easily crushed by the military once they reached the neighbourhood of Um Bedda. Ibrahim’s brother Abdul Aziz Ashur was one of many subsequently sentenced to death.

The 2008 raid, which was supported by both Libya and Chad, marked the peak of Khalil and the JEM’s military and diplomatic strength; in the midst of a series of failed negotiations in Doha, Khartoum slowly tightened the grip on Khalil, securing a peace deal with Ndjamena in 2010 and supporting the campaign that brought about Gaddafi’s downfall in October 2011.

Death in 2011

The JEM leader – accused of being a mercenary for the Gaddafi – was no longer safe in either country, and made a fateful decision to return to Darfur in late 2011. On 25 December 2011, he was killed in a clash with the Sudan Armed Forces at Wad Banda in North Kordofan, having apparently been on the way to South Sudan. In the wake of his death, the pro-Turabist newspapers Alwan and Ra’y al-Sha’b were suspended for publishing interviews with Ibrahim and his brother Jibril, whose succession to the JEM leadership has provoked further speculation about pro-Zaghawa favouritism within the movement.


Martin Daly, Darfur: A History of Destruction and Genocide (Cambridge: 2007)
Julie Flint & Alex de Waal, A New History of a Long War (London: 2008)

Khalil Ibrahim, Amir al-Mujahidin’, Al-Sharq al-Awsat 13 May 2008

Magdi el Gizouli, ‘Khalil Ibrahim: Chief of the Marginalized’, StillSudan Sunday 25 December 2011


Ibrahim Khalil (JEM) - 2009 interview


[Wikipedia - Khalil Ibrahim->en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

BBC News - Sudan Darfur rebel Khalil Ibrahim killed

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