December 2011 BRIEFS

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 12


Lieutenant General George Athor Deng, a dissident South Sudanese military veteran figure, was killed in a clash with the newly formed Republic of South Sudan’s border forces on December 19-though the exact date, location, and circumstances vary by press reports. Athor led a breakaway faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) called the South Sudan’s Democratic Movement/Army (SSDM/A). Athor had reportedly been on a mission to meet with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and was subsequently killed in a firefight while crossing back into Central Equatoria State via Rwanda (Sudan Tribune, December 20). Athor turned on his former longtime SPLA/M comrades in April 2010 when he bitterly lost his bid for the post of governor in Jongelei State. He formed the SSDM/A and began an insurrection against the South Sudanese political establishment as it finalized its plans for secession from the Islamist-governed Republic of Sudan. His followers inexplicably blamed Museveni’s Uganda, a long time SPLA/M supporter, for the killing but provided no specifics for their claim, a charge Uganda instantly refuted as absurd. An SSDM/A statement issued to local media read: “He [Athor] was killed by Ugandans and Museveni will dearly pay for that. The SSLA [South Sudan Liberation Army] and SSDA will teach Museveni a lesson he will never forget” while a spokesman for President Museveni retorted: “It is not true … It does not bear any reality to our historical links” (Daily Monitor [Kampala], December 23). Meanwhile an SPLA/M claim surfaced that Athor had in fact been on a clandestine mission to rendezvous with the dreaded Lord’s Resistance Army Leader Joseph Kony [1] and was en route to the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (Radio Miraya, December 20).

Athor was a headache for the South Sudanese state from the start. He commanded deadly raids in his native Jongelei up until his death. A series of attacks on Jongelei villages appear to have been aimed at thieving cattle (The Citizen [Juba], December 12). Athor remains a deeply divisive figure even in death. As he fought Khartoum’s forces for decades before entering into his brief yet bloody internal rebellion, South Sudanese were divided about whether he deserved a proper burial as a man who overall fought for South Sudan’s independence since 1983 or whether his body should be disposed of in an anonymous, undignified manner comparable to Osama bin Laden with the Nile standing in for the Arabian Sea (The Citizen, December 23). The barb traded by both sides of the Athor conflict has been that the other is a pawn of the northern President Omar al-Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP). The SPLA/M asserted that Athor was being supported by Khartoum to keep South Sudan unstable in the eyes of the international community and Athor stated in a posthumously published letter to President Museveni that, “When general elections were held in April 2010, the SPLM and the NCP conspired to rig the elections in the South to return the SPLM” (Sudanese Online, December 26). Athor said that his biggest grievance was the squandering of Southern oil revenues since the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 which resulted in the SPLM/A becoming a shiftless, corrupt body that sought an undemocratic monopoly on the South’s political framework. Athor’s enmity toward his former comrades resulted in his bloody demise. Whether the killing of George Athor was part of a calculated strategy by forces in the SPLA/M or an incidental confrontation is fairly immaterial as the result is the same whichever narrative is closer to the truth. Juba is claiming Athor’s death a victory for Southern unity but unless the root causes of the late Lieutenant General’s rebellion are firmly addressed, it is very likely the world’s most recently internationally recognized nation-state will continue to suffer from some degree of insurrection over the allocation and distribution of wealth derived from energy output combined a host of unresolved pastoral rights and inter-tribal issues.


1. For a profile of LRA leader Joseph Kony, see Andrew McGregor, “Rebellion Without Reason: The Strange Survival of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army,” Militant Leadership Monitor, November 2011.


On December 25, an Algiers court released Hassan Hattab, the founding emir of the Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat-GSPC) and former regional emir of the 1990s-era GSPC takfiri predecessor Groupe Islamique Armé (Armed Islamic Group-GIA) according to a press announcement by Belkacem Zeghmati, the country’s Attorney General (El Watan, December 25). Hattab rejected the concept of takfir as part of his raison d’être for forming the GSPC. He is one of Algeria’s earliest adapters in the practice of modern violent jihad in the wake of the 1991 elections that brought an Islamist party to power, were dismissed by the ruling Front de Libération Nationale, (National Liberation Front-FLN). When the Algerian military took control, subsequently sparking a civil war lasting throughout the 1990s, Hassan Hattab rose to the highest echelon of Algeria’s then emerging nexus of jihadis. Though Hattab has not been an operational leader in the Algerian jihad for over a decade (see Terrorism Monitor, September 25, 2007), he still remains a sizeable figure in his ideological tête-à-tête’s with Abdelmalek Droukdel, the emir of the GSPC’s successor organization al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).