Rebel invasion of Khartoum and the revenge of the secret police

The security service’s terror in today’s Sudan

As pointed out in the earlier article about the riots in Kenya, I always seem to run into some kind of mishap on my journeys. I guess I have myself to blame when choosing to go to Sudan, but the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, where I would spend most of my time during my stay in the country, was (and still is) viewed as one of the safest capitals in the world. There certainly wasn’t any street violence or risk of robbery to be concerned about. But the assurance of safety when I landed in Khartoum in May 2008 to start an employment in a German relief organisation, came to an abrupt end on my very first evening.

Almost immediately, just as I had managed to get my new professional E-mail working, I received a message from the United Nations with the following content: “3000 rebels on their way to Khartoum”. I couldn’t believe it but the message from the security department was true and the following day the huge rebel force had in fact reached all the way to the Nile that mark off the suburbs from Khartoum city.

The capital had never before directly been affected by the eternal civil wars in the country, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. The attack had an immediate connection to the conflict inDarfursince the attacking group, Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), is one of the two rebel groups that started the war against the Sudanese army in Darfur 2003. So they travelled from Darfur in the western part of the huge country and all the way to the capital in the east, something incredible considering the enormous distances and also an indicator of the weakness of Sudan’s military weakness.


During the following day, a curfew was installed in all of Khartoum. I consequently had to stay inside and from the stairs in front of the house I could hear the gunfire and the military helicopters that could also be seen hovering over the city. During the day the military managed to retake the control of the suburbs and the insurgents were chased away, but many rebels were believed to have infiltrated Khartoum and the risk for terror attacks therefore remained high.  

The UN was taken by total surprise when the Darfur conflict suddenly spilled over to the capital, and thus had no evacuation plan for all the foreign aid workers staying in Khartoum. We were hence completely unprotected by the lawlessness that risked arising in a possible power vacuum. 

Calm was re-instated a few days after the assault, but this was devious and only applied to the surface. Instead, terrible events took place in secrecy. The security service, the NISS, immediately started a brutal cleansing campaign against sympathizers of the JEM-rebels in Khartoum and indiscriminately attacked innocent civilians.

Amnesty International reported that security forces went from door to door and arrested people with the ”wrong” ethnic background and also used excessive force in their operations. People were shot dead in their homes, one man reportedly died in the custody of the security police and Amnesty warned that “disappearances” would occur. Hundreds of people were arrested in Khartoum the following days and over 1000 people were put in secret prisons around the capital in the coming weeks.

Whether they were guilty or not, many were tortured and some would never be seen alive ever again. It shouldn’t come as a surprise; this was the response to expect from the brutal dictatorship that rules Sudan. Many predicted a brutal revenge against Darfur as well as the infiltrators in Khartoum. Undoubtedly the innocent citizens were the ones who suffered the most and especially those belonging to the same tribe as the rebel leader were the subject to especially harsh measures from the regime.

According to Amnesty International’s report from 2010 (Agents of Fear – The National Security Service in Sudan), the country’s security service is continuously notorious in its violations in order to secure the power of the government. The levels of repression usually increase after separate incidents that are considered to threaten the regime. Thus, repression augmented after the rebel invasion of 2008, after the Hague’s arrest issue of the Sudanese president in March 2009, as well as after the (so called) parliamentary elections in April 2010.

In all these incidents, the NISS intensified its campaigns of persecution and arrests that foremost targeted human rights activists, opposition sympathizers, students, journalists and ethnic minorities.

In today’s Sudan, the secret police holds so-called “ghost houses” which are secret, unofficial prisons where suspected citizens are imprisoned completely outside of any legal system and where they are subject to beatings, torture and murder. Hundreds of people disappear every year and many end up in these infamous torture chambers. According to the Amnesty report, also UN employees are harassed, as are witnesses in connection with the criminal court inthe Hague. The persecutions have forced many local employees of the UN and other organizations to flee the country.

Isn’t it time for the world community, i.e. the UN, EU, AU and NATO, to finally forcefully take action and put the Sudanese government to justice? Isn’t it time for the world community to take its responsibility so that the citizens of this huge African nation at last can be freed from this tyrannical, cruel and rotten regime that has agonized them for 23 years?

Filip Ericsson

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