Alexandra Zavis
Los Angeles Times

BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: More than 100,000 Muslims once lived in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. Perhaps a thousand remain.

The vast majority have fled local militias and mobs dominated by Christians and animists. The attackers blame civilians for abuses committed by a mostly Muslim rebel coalition that briefly seized power last year.

In April, peacekeepers evacuated hundreds of Muslims from the northern edge of Bangui. Most of those who remain are confined to a neighborhood called PK 5, the center of Muslim life in the capital. “If one of us passes these limits, they will bring back his body,” said Yaya Wazziri, imam of the Ali Babolo mosque. “We are in prison. We are prisoners.”

Celestine Moussa, 50, was born Christian but converted to Islam nearly three decades ago when she married a Muslim. “We lived in harmony. ... I even advised my sisters to marry a Muslim, because they are good people who take care of their wives.” Now she lies awake at night listening to gunfire.

Her husband fled to Chad in January with the couple’s six children. She stayed behind to be close to her aging parents. She is also taking care of 2-year-old Abdel Latif, her husband’s son by his second wife. “I just want things to be the way they were before,” she said.

Adouje Ndjobo, 75, said he didn’t understand why he was living with other Muslims on the outskirts of Bangui. A herder, he was worried about the family’s cows.

His son left with the cattle when militia fighters started attacking ethnic Peul, Muslim nomads. Neighbors said all four of Ndjobo’s children were killed about 50 miles northwest of the capital. “He was brought here all alone,” said Ibrahim Alawad, a community leader. “We try to take care of him.”

Radia Abdel Aziz, 28, said life was good with her husband, Mahamat, who owned an auto repair shop. But at the end of December, militiamen burst into their home as Mahamat was saying midday prayers and shot him three times.

When he tried to run, they killed him with machetes. She fled to a mosque with other family members. She spends her days sitting under a mango tree looking at old photographs. “We sleep on mats on the ground,” she said. “When it rains, we all run into the mosque and stand there waiting for the rain to stop. Then we go back out to sleep.”

Sheik Daoud Muslim Mbokani blames France for the violence against Muslims. When the former colonial ruler sent troops to help stabilize the country in December, they began by disarming Muslim rebels.

“Now people are killing Muslims,” said Mbokani, an Islamic community leader. “We are obliged to leave, and we don’t know where we should go.”