A powerful American doctor killed in Sudan, “killed for nothing”
WASHINGTON– Linked to Sudan by sick relatives and his dedication to treating the poor there, American doctor Bushra Ibnauf Sulieman continued to work as long as he could after fighting engulfed the Sudanese capital.
For days after fighting between two rival Sudanese commanders erupted in Khartoum on April 15, Sulieman, 49, treated the town’s wounded. He and other medics ventured out as explosions rocked the walls of houses where Khartoum residents were cowering inside. Gunfire between the two factions fighting for control echoed through the streets.
“Say, ‘Nothing will happen to us except what God has decreed for us,'” said Sulieman, an American-born gastroenterologist who divided his time and work between Iowa City, Iowa and Khartoum, in the one of his last posts. friends on Facebook last week as the fighting continued. “And in God believers put their trust.”
The morning Sulieman decided he had to risk the dangerous escape from the Sudanese capital with his parents, American wife and two American children was the morning war found Sulieman, friends say.
In the massive looting that accompanied the fighting in the capital, Khartoum, a city of 5 million people, a roving band of foreigners surrounded him in his yard on Tuesday, stabbing him to death in front of his family. Friends suspect the theft was the motive. He became one of two confirmed Americans killed in Sudan in the fighting, both of whom have dual citizenship.
Authorities say the other, linked to Denver, was caught in the crossfire. They did not publish the name of this American.
Mohamed Eisa, a Sudanese doctor who practices in the Pittsburgh area, was a close colleague of Sulieman. Over the years, “sometimes I’ve asked him, ‘Bushra, what are you doing here? What are you doing in Sudan? recalls Eisa.
“He always tells me, ‘Mohamed, listen — yes, I love living in the United States…but the American health care system is very strong,’ and one doctor more or less won’t make a difference.
Eisa said Sulieman would tell her, “In Sudan, everything I do impacts so many lives, so many students and so many medical professionals.
The sudden illness and death of Eisa’s father in Khartoum meant that Eisa was in Sudan when the fighting broke out. Now trying to reunite with his American wife and children in the United States, Eisa spoke late last week from Port Sudan, a city on the Red Sea now crowded with Sudanese and foreigners who made the dangerous journey 800 kilometers from the capital in the hope of getting places on ships leaving Sudan.
Eisa described a journey through checkpoints manned by armed men, past bodies lying in the streets, and past vehicles carrying other families killed trying to flee.
After evacuating all US diplomats and other US government personnel on April 22, the United States conducted its first evacuation of private US citizens on Saturday. He used armed drones to escort buses carrying between 200 and 300 US citizens, permanent residents and others to Port Sudan.
Sudanese in their country and in the United States spoke of Sulieman’s murder as a special loss.
He was a well-respected colleague at the Gastroenterology Clinic and Mercy Hospital in Iowa City, hospital president Tom Clancy said. Sulieman’s older children live in Iowa.
He returned to Sudan several times a year with medical supplies he had collected for that country, colleagues said.
A nurse at the Iowa City clinic who declined to be identified because the nurse was not authorized to speak called him one of the best. “His love for his patients was exaggerated,” the nurse said. His colleagues saw him as a powerful doctor and humanitarian, an optimistic man with an infectious laugh who populated his texts with smiling faces and sunglasses-wearing cats.
In Sudan, Sulieman headed the medical school at the University of Khartoum and was the founder and director of a humanitarian group of doctors, the Sudanese American Medical Association.
He would help organize and transport medicine and supplies to rural Sudan, organize rural training for midwives, and help bring in cardiologists to perform surgeries for free.
His efforts continued after two Sudanese commanders who had previously joined forces to derail Sudan’s moves towards democracy suddenly launched an all-out battle for power.
Two weeks of fighting left more than 500 dead, according to the Sudanese Ministry of Health. Doctors say the fighters abducted at least five medics, taking them to treat the fighters.
Sulieman was one of many doctors who continued to show up at hospitals, despite everything, said Dr. Yasir Elamin, a Sudanese-American doctor in Houston.
Sulieman and other doctors in Khartoum treated the injured, delivered babies and provided other emergency care until it became too dangerous for him to leave his home.
Concern about keeping her father away from needed dialysis had prevented Sulieman from leaving Khartoum, colleagues said.
On Tuesday, he decided to take his father on dialysis and then attempt to flee Khartoum with his family, he told friends.
The band of men surrounded him before he could leave. They stuck a knife in his chest. Medical colleagues at Soba Hospital in Khartoum, where he had worked, were unable to save him.
In Washington, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby expressed his “deepest condolences” to Sulieman’s family.
“For nothing. For nothing,” Eisa, his colleague in Sudan, said of Sulieman’s murder, before finally finding passage over the weekend on a ship from Sudan.
“Do you know who you killed?” another Sudanese colleague, Hisham Omar, posted among the Facebook tributes of medical workers in the country, a message aimed at the attackers who killed Sulieman.
“You have killed thousands of patients,” the colleague wrote, speaking of the impact Sulieman – a doctor – knew he was having in Sudan, and all the Sudanese he would have helped in the years to come. “You have killed thousands of people in need. You have killed thousands of his students.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Sulieman was born in the United States, not Sudan.