Originally published in Faith Wire
On Tuesday, Christians gathered in Bangui, the Central African Republic to attend their normal Tuesday church service.
It did not last long, as armed gunman stormed the building, killing at least 15 Christians, and one priest. Many in the Notre Dame de Fatima church perished but some were able to escape through a hole police made in the building wall.
Those that couldn’t escape were trapped and filled with panic and fear as the gunman launched grenades inside the church.
“Filled with panic, some Christians began to flee until bullets and grenades began to fall in the parish grounds, trapping those who remained in the compound,” Moses Aliou, one of the priests stated.
The murdered priest, Albert Toungoumale Baba was identified by Walter Brad Mazangue, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Bangui.
The city has been in an uproar since the heinous attack, with protesters filling the streets. They even picked up Albert Toungoumale Baba’s body and brought it to the Presidential palace.
Although police have not been able to identify the killers, there was a violent exchange between the Central African Republic ‘s army and the Muslim PK5 neighborhood prior to the church shooting.
Civil war has raged in the Central African Republic for years, as the central army is constantly fighting off a Muslim group called Seleka, as well as a group called “anti-balaka.” The anti-balaka was formed to fight the Seleka, in order to eventually take over the CAR.
This was not the first time that the Notre-Dame de Fatima church has suffered casualties, due to a number of tragedies in the past couple of years. In 2014, the church was also attacked, killing over a dozen people and another priest.
Najat Rochdi, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for the Central African Republic, stated that other religions places of worship have seen violence as well, detailing mosques in particular.
“Once again it is the civilian population, especially women and children, who pay the price of violence,” Rochdi said.
What once represented a place of worship and peace to those in the Central African Republic, now represents a battleground.
The community also continues to come together to support one another. In Banassou, there is a Roman Church compound that currently houses over 1,000 Muslims who are hiding from anti-balaka troops, who tried to kill them in March.
Recently, there have been claims that the anti-balaka is compromised of Christian fighters, but many have debunked this claim. Aid to the Church in Need, a pastoral charity, has adamently refuted the claims.
“To call the anti-balaka a Christian militia, as is often done, is a mistake,” Maria Lozano, communications manager at Aid to the Church in Need International stated.
“Our partners in the field told us several times that there is not much about them that is Christian. They carry fetishes and amulets for protection. The conflict is between Muslims and non-Muslims, the many followers of traditional religions and non-Christian sects,” Lozano added.
Lozano stated that both the Christian community and the Muslim community are being targeted by the factious groups.
“The local non-Muslim people created the anti-balaka militia to defend themselves, and they are full of anger after having to endure long months of assaults and violence,” she explained.