Unspeakable acts of inhumanity as violence intensifies in the Central African Republic

A young boy involved in the looting of a mosque brandishes his knife in front of the cameras.
A young boy involved in the looting of a mosque brandishes his knife in front of the cameras. Photo: Reuters/Emmanuel Braun

There is hatred in their eyes as they spit their words out at you: “Djotodia doit partir”, Michael Djodotia, transitional President of the Central African Republic, “must go”.

These same words were emblazoned in graffiti on walls round a small unremarkable mosque near the Assemblee Nationale, on the Avenue de l’Independence - one of Bangui’s principal roads that is heavily patrolled by the French, African (members of the Multinational Force for Central Africa - FOMAC) and Seleka troops, where a revenge mob had gathered.

Young men call for the transitional president of the Central African Republic to step down. Credit: Susanna Flood

They had burned the mosque, as well as the Imam’s house. And they were running riot, removing anything that could be taken from the building.

They pulled the corrugated iron from the roof and fled with their trophies into the neighbouring quarter of Fouh.

Others, men and women together, gathered in the dusty grounds, shouting encouragement to the mob, beating at the walls with whatever instruments they could find or writing their graffiti in large letters on the remaining walls, declaring their hatred of the president.

Even worse were those writing “Tuer les musulmans”, "Kill the Muslims" on the wall of the already-defiled mosque.

Members of the mob revelled in any attention they could get, happily performing for the few cameras that had braved the crowd and the ongoing insecurity to record what was going on.

The young men were supported by crowds as they looted the mosque in Bangui. Credit: Reuters/Emmanuel Braun

More: Violent clashes and looting in Central African Republic

To any sane observer, it was an utterly meaningless attack. But this is what’s growing in Bangui today, fuelled by what feels like a shocking escalation of anti-Muslim rhetoric within the Christian community.

Language that would, in normal times be unthinkable, is being used to describe their fellow man, neighbours rising against neighbours, all on the basis of his religion.

People in Bangui are angry and frustrated. This is a city where normal life has come to a complete halt. The ramshackle stores and restaurants that line the sides of the city’s roads are all deserted or, even worse, looted or destroyed. Small numbers of people can be seen wandering aimlessly in groups.

The crowd were happy to perform for the cameras. Credit: REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun

But most are in hiding, having either joined the masses taking refuge in the various camps that have sprung up around the city or staying in their homes with the doors firmly locked, unable to go out even to buy food.

All shops and small businesses are closed. No one is going to work or to school. Only a few hospitals remain open but without the daily stream of the sick and unwell who would normally arrive seeking treatment.

Anger and resentment are growing day after day. People want revenge and are not willing to sit back and wait for the French troops or for the Multinational Force of Central Africa (FOMAC) forces to protect them.

Christian men hold a placard in Bangui: 'No to Chad Multinational Force of Central Africa. They are traitors. Credit: REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun

Unspeakable acts of inhumanity are being carried out on a daily basis in the Central African Republic.

We have seen children who were brutally attacked, by men wielding machetes. These were not random attacks: the children were hit directly in the head.

We have spoken to people who feel safer in the squalid conditions of displaced peoples’ camps than in the safety of their own homes.

Internally Displaced Persons Camp inside the Central African Republic. Credit: Susanna Flood

Read: Thousands displaced amid CAR violence

“I was born here. My father was born here. So was my grandfather. How can they tell me I am not Central African?”, more than one person has said this to me.

And yet Muslims in Bangui have become the focus of much of the rage that is sweeping the city, declared as outsiders by the predominately Christian community.

Read: What is behind the crisis is Central African Republic?

When we visited the central morgue in the city, we were told that all of the hundreds of bodies stored there were Christians.

“How do you know?” we asked. “Because they don’t have dark marks on their foreheads,” some told us, a reference to mark some are said to develop as a result of the Muslim act of prayer.

The majority of those killed in Bangui since Wednesday may have been Christians but the way the tide is turning against the Muslim community is deeply worrying.

Read: UNICEF: Children targeted in CAR atrocities

We are hearing increased reports of disturbing revenge attacks against Muslims around Bangui. One man was killed when he returned to his home in a mostly-Christian neighbourhood to collect some personal belongings is one such victim reported to us.

It is not unreasonable to fear what will happen next in the Central African Republic. Stability, state authority and rule of law urgently needs to be re-established.

Peace needs to prevail and the killing must stop. But then comes the much bigger challenge of re-building trust between communities torn apart by the bloodshed and brutality.

Susanna Flood is the Director of Media for Amnesty International. Her views do not reflect those of ITV News.