Top photo: What remains of the burnt out dormitories at the Lhubiriha Secondary School
Every night, Mary Masika went to bed hearing the voices of singing children coming from the school near her home in western Uganda’s Kasese District.
But on the evening of Friday, June 16, instead of singing, she heard screaming. That night, as the students prepared for bed in their dormitories, militants attacked Lhubiriha Secondary School, killing at least 41 people, mainly male students, and abducting several girls. Others were critically injured. Open Doors’ local contacts in the area said that most, if not all, of the victims were Christians.
The group of at least five militants, part of the Islamic extremist group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), attacked with a purpose in mind. An Open Doors field worker shared: “According to a survivor of the school attack, the militants [said] if there were Muslims among the students, they should move aside because they were not going to hurt fellow believers.”
At around 11:30 pm, towards the end of the attack, Masika told the BBC that she heard one of the assailants talking at her gate, asking a fellow fighter if “the job was done.” She said they began shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) and that after these chants one of them added: “We have succeeded in destabilizing Museveni’s [the Ugandan President] country.”
The details of the attack are horrific. Militants burned the school buildings while children were still inside, mercilessly killing 37 students along with four residents. It is still unclear how many were kidnapped. Some sources say seven while others think it could be dozens.
In response to the heinous attack, Uganda’s People Defense Forces sent helicopters to search for the abducted students. Ugandan President Yoweri Musevni called the attack a “desperate, cowardly, terrorist action.” “We are bringing new forces to the Uganda side as we continue the hunting on the Congo side,” he said.
"Christian-dominated communities in northeastern DRC have suffered immensely under the brutality of the Islamic militant ADF group."
Jo Newhouse*, Open Doors spokesperson
The school is less than two kilometers from the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where the ADF is mainly active today.
Open Doors’ spokesperson for our work in sub-Saharan Africa, Jo Newhouse* shared: “Open Doors unequivocally denounces this brutal attack. For years now, the Christian-dominated communities in northeastern DRC have suffered immensely under the brutality of the Islamic militant ADF group with insufficient international attention to their plight.
“The ease with which the militants crossed the border to Uganda and callously attacked some of the most vulnerable in society is a huge concern and serves as urgent alert to the agenda of the group to expand their influence and footprint.”
Who are the ADF?
Founded in 1995 in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
, the Allied Democratic Forces has Ugandan and extremist Islamic roots. The group was formed to fight and overthrow the Ugandan government through an agreement between portions of Uganda’s Tabliq Islamic sect and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), a group that sought to violently establish strict Islamic rule in Uganda.
Since 1995, the ADF has been supported by various parties to fight for various objectives, including several governments in the DRC who tried to disrupt the Ugandan and Rwandan military presence in the country. But a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes that following the 2015 arrest and extradition of ADF leader Jamil Mukulu, the group aligned with the Islamic State group (the Islamic State group publicly recognized ADF as an affiliate in late 2018). The allegiance with the Islamic State group has launched increased and focused efforts to kill non-Muslim civilians.
The UPDF, alongside DRC’s national army, have spent almost two years pursuing the ADF in a joint operation. However, efforts to curtail or eradicate ADF presence and impact have been mostly ineffective. Their violent insurgency shows no real signs of weakening or stopping. The latest attack on a school yet another example of how brutal they can be.
"Our deepest and heartfelt condolences to all the families affected by this tragic and cruel attack,” said Joshua Williams*, Open Doors’ Field Director for our work in sub-Saharan Africa “May God grant justice to all. We call on the government of Uganda to step up and speedily to curb this injustice and protect its citizens at all costs.”
Open Doors worker speaking to family at a funeral after the attack on Lhubiriha Secondary School
On the ground
On Sunday, Open Doors field workers were allowed on the grounds of the school. Field workers described the scene as “devastating.”
"Open Doors partners are on the ground and ministering to affected people"
“Security in the area has been stepped up, but Open Doors partners are on the ground and ministering to affected people,” Newhouse said. “The attack only strengthens our Arise Africa campaign’s efforts to raise awareness, prayer and support for the body of Christ affected by the growing violent militancy in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Open Doors field workers visited two families who lost loved ones in the attack. One family had already finished burying two of their family members: a father and security guard at the school, Zephanas Mbusa; and his 17-year-old son, Elton, who was a student at the school. The family's second son (20 years old) is suspected to be among those abducted. The team also visited a second family who has benefitted from Open Doors support. Sadly, their daughter’s body has not yet been identified or found. Regardless of the uncertainty, the family made the difficult decision to make funeral preparations.
The attack has deeply unsettled the community. “The parents are calling the school asking for their children,” the chaplain said. “They are saying that they would rather die with their children at home than hear that they were butchered like what happened."
Open Doors has been involved in the church in Uganda since 2003, bringing economic resourcefulness training, theological and leadership training, discipleship training for new believers and trauma counselling.
*name changed for security reasons