Before-and-after satellite photos from Darfur show entire villages wiped off the map

June 19, 2013

On April 8, one of Sudan's most infamous militia leaders, a man who fights under the name of Ali Kushayb, descended on the the town of Abu Jeradil, in Darfur. He was traveling with a convoy of khaki-uniformed men, some of them armed with anti-aircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, according to survivors who spoke to Human Right Watch. The men opened fire shortly after arriving, firing indiscriminately. Then they set houses and fields on fire. After looting some of the livestock, they left.

A series of satellite images released by Human Rights Watch show the town of Abu Jeradil and its outlying villages just before the attack and two months after. The images, embedded below in slider tools than allow you to compare the before and after, show the utter devastation of the attack, with entire communities wiped off the map. The NGO estimates that the attack killed more than 100 civilians, sent tens of thousands fleeing and destroyed an astounding 2,800 buildings – 88 percent of all structures in Abu Jeradil.

Both sets of images show villages within Abu Jeradil. The images on the left, from before the attack, show walled compounds and fields criss-crossed by dirt paths. The images at right show many of those compounds reduced to little more than smudges against the dirt, with the homes destroyed and even many of the small pastures clearly burned.

Survivors who later returned home found bodies piled in the dirt roads, some still laying where they'd been shot as they fled. "Five in one place, four in another place, two women shot as they ran," one woman recounted.

Kushayb is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, which accuses him of slaughtering ethnic minorities in Darfur on behalf of Sudan's government. Although the worst of Darfur's violence is over – the crisis, beginning in 2003, killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and sent millions into refugee camps – these attacks still occur. Three days before the razing of Ali Kushayb, similar attacks hit 24 villages in another part of Darfur.

It's not clear the degree of the militias' collaboration of the government, if any, but Kushayb is still employed as a high-ranking member of the Central Reserve Police and some survivors told Human Rights Watch that their attackers wore the uniforms of the central police and border patrol; others appeared to be civilian militia.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is wanted for war crimes, including genocide, by the International Criminal Court.

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Max Fisher · June 19, 2013