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At least 42 dead in cathedral attack in Central African Republic

U.N. peacekeeping soldiers patrol alongside women and children in 2015 in Bangui, Central African Republic (CNS photo/Daniel Dal Zennaro, EPA)

At least one priest was among those killed

At least 42 people have died in an attack Thursday on the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Alindao, in the Central African Republic, according to local reports.

At least one priest was among those killed in the Nov. 15 attack. Some unofficial estimates have said the death toll could reach as high as 100. Many of the people killed were refugees sheltering at the Church.

The CAR has suffered violence since December 2012, when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka, and seized power.

In reaction to the Seleka’s attacks, some Central Africans formed self-defense groups called anti-balaka. Some of these groups, mainly composed of Christians, began attacking Muslims out of revenge, and the conflict took on a sectarian character.

According to reports from Aid to the Church in Need, ex-Seleka forces attacked the cathedral, reportedly in retaliation for a Muslim who was killed the day prior by anti-balaka.

The priest killed in the attack was vicar general of the diocese, Abbe Blaise Mada. Aid to the Church in Need added that some reports have said second priest, Father Celestine Ngoumbango, was also killed, but this has not been confirmed.

Houses in the neighborhood were also looted and burned.

Many Catholic churches in the country provide refuge to Muslims and Christians alike fleeing violence, included churches in the Diocese of Bangassou, some 140 miles to the east of Alindao, where several Catholic institutions have taken in displaced Muslims who face violence at the hand of anti-balaka.

Anti-balaka killed more than 100 Muslims in Bangassou in May 2017 before United Nations peacekeepers intervened, and since then the city’s Petit Seminaire Saint Louis has been home to about 1,600 displaced Muslims. Another 2,000 Muslims have taken refuge at St. Peter Claver Cathedral in Bangassou.

The CAR held a general election in 2015-16 which installed a new government, but militant groups continue to terrorize local populations. Thousands of people have been killed in the violence, and at least a million have been displaced. At least half of Central Africans depend on humanitarian aid, the U.N. reports.

Pope Francis visited the CAR during his trip to Africa in 2015, and urged the country’s leaders to work for peace and reconciliation.

Three priests were killed in CAR this year prior to yesterday’s Cathedral attack.