November 28, 2023

Salah Hussein saw dozens of cars and large trucks fully loaded with goods –everything from used household furniture to electrical appliances — in a market called Kandahar in the Umbada suburb west of Omdurman, ferried by armed individuals wearing the military uniform of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). These scenes of blatant theft in the capital by the warring parties have unfortunately become commonplace during the ongoing war in Sudan.

For Hussein, there is no way the RSF could claim that these goods were purchased from the capital’s markets since commercial activity had come to a standstill after nearly eight months of war. “All these goods were stolen by these gunmen,” Hussein told Ayin Hussein, a local resident who resides in the Umbada area, adjacent to the market.

Organised looting started as soon as the outbreak of war between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in mid-April this year. This looting by armed groups known as “Al-Kasaba” (“profiteers”) are combatants who join the battles purely for looting –whether it is shops or private homes. Scavengers have intensified their criminal activity in the areas controlled by the RSF in Khartoum and surrounding areas, according to witnesses who spoke to Ayin. After looting various possessions, they display them for sale in the local markets such as Libya and Kandahar west of Omdurman, which have since turned into the largest centers for stolen goods and merchandise.

Looting a government building in Khartoum (Ayin)

Illegal activity

The markets for stolen goods are now known as “Dagalo” markets, named after the commander of the Rapid Support Forces, Muhammad Hamdan Hemedti Dagalo (aka “Himmedti”), as the RSF are heavily implicated in the looting by residents –an accusation the RSF strongly deny.

“Armed men wearing the military uniform of the RSF display various goods on the back of large trucks at a public auction in the Libyan market, and small retailers buy the goods from them at low prices,” says Muhammad Al-Mahi, who sells perfumes in Libya market, west of Omdurman. “The armed men come onboard cars loaded with various goods and commodities, especially tools, electrical appliances, it has become a major commercial activity through which many citizens now make their living.”  With the lack of other commercial activities available during this war, Al-Mahi added, many residents trapped in the capital, Khartoum, have found themselves forced to trade in stolen goods as a form of survival.

While many of those who loot are long-term RSF members, the majority are civilians who joined the RSF upon the outbreak of war and survive by the stolen loot acquired from participating in military campaigns, according to a transporter of stolen goods who spoke to Ayin on the condition of anonymity. Without providing any salaries, the same source said he started engaging in “commercial work” –-buying and selling goods in western Omdurman and transporting some of these goods to western states to attain greater profits. Thousands of young men from the Kordofan and Darfur regions have joined the RSF –often mobilizing their own family members, he added. The vast majority of these new RSF recruits join to plunder and gain quick profits unabated.

Bashir Al-Sadiq, a resident of the Wad Al-Banna neighbourhood in Khartoum’s sister city, Omdurman, says he has seen cars loaded with goods and household furniture crossing the Shambat Bridge towards Omdurman for many months since the outbreak of war.  Ahmed Al-Tanan, a resident of the Umbada suburb, watched RSF breaking into shops in the Libya market, next to giant warehouses near Al-Huda prison, west of Omdurman, where they took what they wanted before leaving the rest for ordinary people to loot. “I saw these gunmen loading large cars with various goods from warehouses west of Omdurman, which contained foodstuffs in addition to various electrical appliances[…]this incident took place at the beginning of July.”

Destruction and fires affecting homes and civilian objects in Omdurman (Ayin)

Expanding criminal activity

Ayin‘s correspondent documented the crossing of at least 10 trucks of the “Al-Kasaba” in one day in October 2023, on the Al-Obeid – Al-Dabaibat road. They passed all the checkpoints set up by the RSF on this road without stopping or being intercepted by anyone, and there were armed men on board wearing military uniforms and others in civilian clothing, with many goods and collectibles piled inside. In comparison, the multitude of RSF checkpoints along these same roads, routinely stop passenger buses and insist passengers provide receipts for any possessions found on board.

The Local markets in West Kordofan State of Abu Zubad and Al-Fula expanded after the stolen possessions arrived in huge quantities, and the “Al-Kasaba” displayed them openly during the day to sell them to citizens at low prices. The Rapid Support Forces almost completely control those areas according to residents. The stolen goods also go to the city of El Daein and many areas inside the Darfur region. “When the Kasaba arrives at the entrance to the city, they intensely fire their weapons in the air, as it is a custom that indicates a celebration of their arrival,” said Mohamed Amin*, a citizen from Abu Zabid. “The members of the Rapid Support Forces stationed at the entrance to the city celebrate with them in the same manner, alerting citizens to go to the city market to see new collectibles.”

RSF celebrates their military victory in Geneina (social media)

RSF denies

A member of the advisory office of the Commander of the RSF, Pasha Tabiq, refutes any connection between “Al-Kasaba” and the Rapid Support Forces. “Al-Kasaba is a nickname for outlaws and bandits who existed before the outbreak of the April 15 2023 war,” Tabiq told Ayin. “At the outbreak of the war, these groups increased significantly due to the fluidity of security, becoming active in blocking roads, looting, and plundering inside and outside the cities.” 

Tabiq points out that these groups are operating alongside gangs that the army released from the prisons. Tabiq says the Rapid Support Forces have nothing to do with these gangs. and views them as their enemy. “The Rapid Support does not favour any unruly and outlaw groups, but rather works to eliminate them,” he added. “The prisons affiliated with the Rapid Support Forces are now full of looters who have allowed themselves to trespass on citizens’ property.”