Addis Abeba – At least eight civilians lost their lives in a massacre as they returned from the annual Saint Gabriel festival in Kulubi town on 28 December, 2023.
The violent episode occurred at the entrance to Metehara, a town in the East Shewa Zone of the Oromia region.
Eyewitness accounts also verify the abduction of ten more individuals by an armed group during the assault that took place late on Friday night.
The festival honoring St. Gabriel is a vibrant annual celebration that takes place on 28 December in Kulubi, a quaint town in the East Hararghe Zone of the Oromia region. Kulubi, situated just south of Dire Dawa, attracts countless worshippers from across the country to its religious observance. The fervent expressions of devotion in Kulubi extend beyond its borders, influencing the cities of Harar and Dire Dawa with its spiritual fervor.
Despite the peaceful attendance of devotees at this year’s religious festival, not all were able to return to their homes in peace. The toll of the recent violence includes Desalegn Deme, a 37-year-old driver from Addis Abeba with 17 years of experience behind the wheel. Desalegn tragically lost his life in an attack while returning from the St. Gebreal festival.
A relative, who wished to remain anonymous, confided to Addis Standard, “Desalegn and several others from our neighborhood were slain on their way back to Addis Abeba after attending the annual St. Gebreal celebration at Kulubi.”
The family member disclosed that the incident encompassed a group of 19 individuals voyaging in an Isuzu vehicle driven by Desalegn. In the quest for answers, the relative traveled to Metehara and was confronted with the grim sight of Desalegn’s charred vehicle on the street.
“Local authorities informed us that the victims had been interred en masse, and the remains could not be returned to their families,” he said. The source revealed that the armed group had abducted at least 10 individuals and inflicted injuries on other survivors, who are presently undergoing medical treatment.
The relative further stated that Desalegn and others encountered an armed faction at Welenchiti town on their initial trip from Addis Abeba to Kulubi. “The armed group seized their mobile phones and appropriated 14,000 birr from Desalegn.”
Another individual who survived the ordeal, requesting anonymity due to safety concerns, recounted to Addis Standard his journey from Kulubi to Arbaminch when the assault took place, roughly 10 kilometers from Metehara.
Recounting the traumatic event, the survivor said, “We were set upon by an estimated 40 armed assailants who torched vehicles and fired upon Orthodox adherents coming back from the Kulubi St. Gebreal event. The vehicle I was in, which was transporting around 50 passengers, came under gunfire, resulting in two deaths and six fatal injuries.”
The survivor further emphasized that the armed group had targeted several other vehicles both before and after their own encounter, signifying an attack of a broader scale.
The police department of the Fentale district in the East Shewa Zone has provided confirmation to Addis Standard regarding the occurrence of civilian casualties within the district, attributing the attack to the actions of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), which is active in the Oromia region.
According to the district police authorities, the incident tragically resulted in six fatalities, whose bodies were burned while they were inside a vehicle. The deceased were interred by federal military forces in cooperation with the Oromia police.
According to the police, the attack reportedly involved two vehicles: an Isuzu and a Tata bus. The victims were returning from the Kulubi Gabriel event.
The family of the deceased has formally requested the release of the bodies. Nonetheless, the district police have indicated that they are unable to comply with this request, citing difficulties in recovering the remains. AS
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