This report is contributed by John Pontifex of Aid to the Church in Need.
* * *
Jihadist training camps housing as many as 1,500 children as young as nine have been discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to research by international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)
Sources close to the organization—which requested anonymous for security reasons—have reported that poverty-stricken youngsters are being lured off the streets of the impoverished and war-torn country; they are then taken to remote camps where they are brutalized and indoctrinated by Islamist militia.
In at least three camps in the Ruwenzori Mountains of eastern DRC, young boys have been observed dressed in camouflage clothing and doing military exercises watched over by soldiers with guns. There are also reports of dozens of girls, wearing burkas, huddled together in the camps and being readied for marriage to Islamic fighters.
Maria Lozano, a communications official for ACN, said: “We have been given access to a variety of materials that shows the nature of these camps. The reports show soldiers wielding rifles, watching over children ages nine to 15 in military outfits carrying out military exercises. The images we have seen are very disturbing.”
Lozano said: “We are very concerned for the children as they have been lured off the streets with the promise of an escape from poverty. Some of the children are orphans but others have left their families after being deceived by recruiters who build up their hopes by offering them the chance to study in the Middle East, Europe or Canada.
“The information we have is that the girls are being forced into marriages in which they will be treated as sex slaves.”
The apparently sudden emergence of the jihadist camps is being linked by some to UN peace keeping forces, with some alleging that the troops that they are complicit in operating the camps and that they are intentionally failing to take action against them.
There have been allegations that some members of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are fundamentalist Muslims from Pakistan who in their spare time are setting up Quranic schools and working on mosque construction sites. The ACN sources have charged the mosques have been built in areas where virtually no Muslims were living.
Lozano said: “People don’t feel protected by the UN soldiers; the information we have received suggests that they are supporting the jihadist camps or at least they are not taking action against the indoctrination of children and the barbaric treatment of them.”
According to the 2014 Journal of International Organizations Studies, 28 of the 44 mosques in the Medina region of DRC were built between 2005 and 2012. According to some reports, the Muslim share of the population of eastern DRC has grown from 1 to 10 percent in just a few years.
The Catholic bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Bukavu, in eastern DRC, last May sent a sent an open letter past May to the country’s political leadership, the UN and international governments, denouncing an upsurge of jihadist fundamentalism in a region traditionally dominated by Christianity.
“It has already been one month since the bishops sent their urgent appeal to the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other leaders, but nobody has acted,” said Lozano.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)