At least 25 killed in clashes between Sudan forces

By Adrienne Vogt, Sophie Tanno, Tori B. Powell and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 7:58 a.m. ET, April 16, 2023
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3:37 p.m. ET, April 15, 2023

How paramilitary group leader Dagalo has consolidated power in Sudan

From CNN’s Nima Elbagir and Tamara Qiblawi 

Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo attends a meeting in Khartoum, Sudan, in 2022.
Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo attends a meeting in Khartoum, Sudan, in 2022. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)


The Rapid Support Forces are a preeminent paramilitary group in Sudan, whose leader — Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo — has had a meteoric rise to power that began in Sudan’s Darfur conflict in the early 2000s. 

At the time, he was the leader of Sudan’s notorious Janjaweed forces implicated in human rights violations and atrocities.

In the face of international outcry over the Janjaweed’s actions in Darfur, Sudan’s then-dictator Omar al-Bashir formalized the group into a paramilitary forces known as the Border Intelligence Units. It was the beginning of an illustrious — and deeply contentious — military career.

In 2007, Khartoum made him a brigadier general and his troops became part of the country’s intelligence services. In 2013, Bashir formally created the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group led by Dagalo and overseen directly by Bashir.

He was widely known by his family’s nickname for him, Hemedti. The former dictator referred to him in public as a permutation of that nickname, Himayti, which means "my protector." 

Wealth and growth of forces: Dagalo's consolidation of power went hand in hand with a rapid accumulation of wealth. The paramilitary chief seized key gold mining locations in the Darfur region. By 2017, the country’s gold sales accounted for 40% exports. 

Dagalo was also developing key foreign relationships. In 2015, when Sudan joined a Saudi-led coalition to fight Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, Dagalo sent RSF units to Yemen. Among other missions, troops were tasked with a key security portfolio — guarding Saudi Arabia’s borders with the war-torn country.  

Dagalo’s forces were growing rapidly into the tens of thousands, including thousands of armed pickup trucks, which regularly patrolled the streets of the capital, Khartoum.

Dagalo would go on to betray Bashir, helping to topple him. Sources told CNN at the time of Bashir’s ouster that he personally told Bashir, "the time had come to step down." At this point, he was one of the most powerful and richest men in Sudan.

After Bashir was overthrown: In June 2019, Dagalo’s forces opened fire on an anti-Bashir, pro-democracy sit-in in Khartoum, killing at least 118 people. They allegedly burned protesters’ tents, killed sit-in participants, and according to multiple accounts, raped female protesters. 

Later that summer, he was appointed deputy of the transitional Sovereign Council that ruled Sudan in partnership with civilian leadership. 

He had also inherited a key relationship fostered by Bashir — a working relationship with the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, which a CNN investigation found was helping to thwart democratic transition and exploit Sudan’s gold wealth in order to bust Western sanctions on Russia and help fund Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Relationship with military chief: Sudan’s military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Dagalo — until clashes on Saturday — were bedfellows. They were bound together by a 2021 coup and the prior toppling of Bashir.

Sources in Sudan’s civilian movement and Sudanese military sources told CNN the main points of contention included the timeline for the merger of the forces, the status given to RSF officers in the future hierarchy, and whether RSF forces should be under the command of the army chief — rather than Sudan's commander-in-chief — who is currently al-Burhan.

2:33 p.m. ET, April 15, 2023

Video captures smoke rising and the sound of gunshots near Sudan's presidential palace

Video captured the sound of fierce fighting near the Sudanese presidential palace Saturday, as the country's army and a paramilitary force traded accusations and claims to control key sites.

Smoke could be seen rising near the palace as the two forces clashed in the capital of Khartoum and surrounding areas.

The clashes started this morning, according to leaders with both organizations. As the fighting wore on, at least three civilians died and a "very large number" of people were wounded, according to two doctors' associations in the country.

1:35 p.m. ET, April 15, 2023

Sudan's presidential palace is under army control, military chief says, rejecting paramilitary's claim

From CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali

The Sudanese presidential palace and military headquarters are under army control after clashes erupted with the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces, the country's military leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said Saturday.

“We did not start the war," al-Burhan said during a phone interview with Al Jazeera TV. "We are in our command post and were surprised by an attack around 9:10 a.m. (3:10 a.m. ET) at the house here. We have not moved or gone anywhere. How we are the one who started the attack?"

“They snuck into the airport and burned (a) number of the planes, and our forces there confronted them, but situation is under control,” Al-Burhan added.

The army chief said the main military headquarters and presidential palace remain under control of the Sudanese Army General Command.

His remarks contradict the paramilitary group's claims: The Rapid Support Forces have blamed the army for instigating the conflict with an assault on one of their positions. The organization also claimed, at least earlier Saturday, that it had seized key sites, including the presidential palace.

Read more on the issue's that led up to Saturday's conflict here.

2:12 p.m. ET, April 15, 2023

Sudan doctors board tells citizens to avoid going outside as "large number" of people have been wounded

From CNN journalists in Sudan

People run past a military vehicle in Khartoum, Sudan, on April 15.
People run past a military vehicle in Khartoum, Sudan, on April 15. (AFP/Getty Images)

The Sudan Central Doctors Board is urging citizens to avoid going out into the streets, onto rooftops or into open spaces during "the increase in clashes and expansion into neighborhoods, cities and buildings."

"Stay at home in rooms protected from the sides and ceiling, and staying away from windows," the board said in a statement Saturday.

The board said there is a "very large number" of injured people being counted.

"There are a large number of wounded people who are still detained because of the clashes. We appeal to all forces to stop the clashes immediately and open a safe passage for the injured to receive medical attention," it said.

The group recommended some steps in case of a gunfire wound, including moving anyone who has been injured away from windows or open spaces and pressing directly on a wound to stop bleeding.

2:27 p.m. ET, April 15, 2023

Paramilitary group leader claims in interview that Sudan's military instigated conflict

From CNN's Lauren Kent and CNN journalists in Sudan

Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo attends a ceremony in 2022.
Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo attends a ceremony in 2022. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)

The head of Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, called Sudan’s military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan a "criminal" in an interview with broadcaster Al Jazeera on Saturday.

With both sides trading accusations, Dagalo — who is known as Hemedti — blamed the Sudanese military for instigating the conflict.  

He claimed his forces were drawn into a confrontation with Sudan's military following tension surrounding recent negotiations related to restoring a civilian government.

Hemedti said the RSF and other groups involved in negotiations were ready to sit down with al-Burhan on Friday night "and reach an agreement," but then "all of a sudden, we saw many forces encircled our forces in the camps, streets and closed bridges." 

"Because of this criminal, we had no option but to fight this battle," Hemedti told Al Jazeera in the interview. 

"They attacked us, they hit us, and then we had to fight back after they encircled us," he said, adding that his group is not located in the capital of Khartoum.

"The RSF is now carrying out the sovereignty of the people, the real democratic change, equality for the Sudanese people," he said. "We say to the Sudanese people: We are sorry about this battle but we want those who are at home to stay at home, and the battle will put an end to this in the coming few days." 

What Sudan's military leader says: Meanwhile, al-Burhan, who lives inside the army headquarters, claimed he "was surprised" by the RSF attack on his house on Saturday morning. The army accused the paramilitary group of "traitorous plotting" and has said it is fighting back.

Some background: The two men were bound together by a 2021 coup and the prior toppling of ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir — plus their involvement in Russia’s exploitation of Sudan’s gold resources to fund its Ukraine war, uncovered by CNN.

Forced to disavow Russian support in the face of an international outcry, they returned to the negotiating table with their former partners in government as part of the move to restore civilian rule. Negotiations have centered around who gets to be the senior partner of the required merger of the two forces.

The current hostilities, sources told CNN, are the culmination of what both parties view as an existential fight for dominance.

CNN's Nima Elbagir contributed reporting to this post.

2:14 p.m. ET, April 15, 2023

Ex-prime minister urges end to Sudan clashes: "There is no victory when it is atop the bodies of our people"

From CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali

Abdalla Hamdok gives a press conference in 2021.
Abdalla Hamdok gives a press conference in 2021. (Sarah Meyssonnier/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

Former Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok urged military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, army commanders and paramilitary leaders to stop the fighting.

“The exchange of fire must stop immediately, and the voice of reason must rule; everyone will lose, and there is no victory when it is atop the bodies of our people,” Hamdok said in a video posted on his Facebook account.

At least three civilians have died Saturday, according to the Sudanese doctors' union, as al-Burhan's forces clash with the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces.

“My third message is to the regional and international community, and to those who love peace all over the world; they must do their duty in finding a solution and calming down the warring sides," Hamdok said. "War in Sudan means war in the region.”

Key background: Hamdok was part of the Sudanese government ousted in a 2021 military coup led by al-Burhan, the country's top general.

Al-Burhan and RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo were allied in the coup and the prior toppling of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, but tensions have grown between the two sides over plans to integrate the RSF into the army.

CNN's Nima Elbagir contributed to this report.

2:25 p.m. ET, April 15, 2023

Sudanese leadership must "restrain their troops," British foreign minister says

From CNN's Nima Elbagir

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly arrives at Downing Street on March 28, in London, England.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly arrives at Downing Street on March 28, in London, England. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The United Kingdom's foreign minister called on Sudanese leadership to deescalate the ongoing clashes between army and paramilitary forces.

Leaders need to "restrain their troops," Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement Saturday afternoon, adding that "military action will not resolve this situation."

2:20 p.m. ET, April 15, 2023

Fighting leaves 3 civilians dead and dozens wounded in Sudan, according to medical officials

From CNN journalists in Sudan

Smoke is seen rising in Khartoum, Sudan, on Saturday, April 15.
Smoke is seen rising in Khartoum, Sudan, on Saturday, April 15. (Marwan Ali/AP)

The Sudanese Doctors’ Trade Union has recorded at least three civilian deaths as Sudan's military and Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group clash near the capital of Khartoum. 

Two civilians were killed at Khartoum International Airport, according to the union's report, which was released Saturday afternoon. Another civilian was killed and five more were injured by live ammunition in the city of Al-Abayadh, which is in the central state of North Kordofan. 

Meanwhile, Fedail Hospital in central Khartoum has received dozens of wounded civilians and military personnel in the last several hours, medical sources told CNN.

Some of the wounded people are in serious condition, according to the sources.

11:25 a.m. ET, April 15, 2023

UN strongly condemns the outbreak of fighting between RSF and army in Sudan

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres "strongly condemns the outbreak of fighting between the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces in Sudan."

In a statement released Saturday, Guterres' spokesperson said he called for hostilities in Sudan to immediately come to an end.

"The Secretary-General calls on the leaders of the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces to immediately cease hostilities, restore calm and initiate a dialogue to resolve the current crisis," the statement read. "Any further escalation in the fighting will have a devastating impact on civilians and further aggravate the already precarious humanitarian situation in the country."

His spokesperson added that Guterres is "engaging with leaders in the region" and urged regional Member States to "support efforts to restore order and return to the path of transition."