The government of Sudan has reported the death of Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement, the largest and most powerful of Darfur’s rebel groups.
I met him two and a half years ago in the desert of North Darfur. I spent five days dodging Antonov bombers which appeared every morning and evening, when the air was at its most still, to hunt Khalil. He was with some of his senior commanders, who had gathered from all across Sudan – including the South and the East, far from Darfur – to prepare strategy for the year ahead.
It was a fascinating insight into Jem and Khalil. This was a sophisticated movement. As we hid out beneath acacia trees I wandered among the technicals – pickups armed with heavy machine guns – chatting to well-educated fighters, many with degrees or who had left decent jobs to take up arms. Among them I met Khalil Mohamed Ahmed, who was running a mobile media centre, uploading video and press releases to the the Jem website.
And I sat for several hours with Dr Khalil himself, who set out his motivation for walking away from Omar al-Bashir’s government and setting up his own rebel army. As we talked he tried to rebut allegations his force used child soldiers and described how his forces were preparing for another push. Much of his rhetoric was familiar to anyone who has read the Black Book, setting out the inequalities that riddle a Sudan run by a small, northern elite. And his analysis was largely Islamist, arguing not for a more secular Sudan – as say the rebels of the Sudan Liberation army might – but for greater equality in line with the Koran. It was clear he remained influenced (and in touch with) that wily old architect of Sudan’s Islamist revolution Hassan al-Turabi.
In some ways, Dr Khalil wanted to overthrow Khartoum not because it was an Islamist government but because it wasn’t Islamist enough.
And the trip was a reminder that in Sudan’s desert war the good guys were far from squeaky clean.
You can read more about my time with Jem, along with my trip into the Jebel Mara on a donkey with rebels from the SLA, in my book Saving Darfur, which is now available for Kindle.
I’ll spare you most of the propaganda that came from Sudan’s information ministry announcing Dr Khalil’s death, and leave you with its account of how he died…
The rebel movement forces, led by Dr. Khalil Ibrahim, had begun moving starting from Wadi Hawar area and across Al-Malha, Um Kadada, Al-Tuwaisha localities, the outskirts of Um Bader locality and Wad Banda locality. The forces of the Justice and Equality Movement attacked innocent citizens at their villages, looted shops and vehicles, destroyed houses and kidnapped a number local youth from the areas that it has looted along with groups working in gold exploration.
The Armed Forces have been pursuing the rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement, which was well armed and moving in more than 140 cars, since December 14th until they were able to defeat them December 25th. JEM leader, Dr. Khalil Ibrahim was killed, alongside 30 others, including leading commanders in the movement.