Khalil Ibrahim, a powerful Sudanese rebel leader who mounted a daring and near-successful raid that took his fighters from the sun-blasted deserts of Darfur to the doorstep of the capital, Khartoum, was killed in battle on Sunday, the Sudanese government said.
Sudanese military officials said they killed Mr. Ibrahim and several comrades during a shootout in the southern reaches of the country, and Arab news networks reported that Mr. Ibrahim’s family had confirmed his death.
Mr. Ibrahim’s death would be an enormous blow to the Justice and Equality Movement, the resilient group that he founded several years ago and that had recently teamed up with other dissidents for a multipronged rebellion against the Sudanese government.
Sudan is home to countless rebel groups. But Mr. Ibrahim’s outfit, with its thousands of battle-hardened fighters and links to dissatisfied Islamist elements within the government in Khartoum, is widely believed to be the gravest threat. His forces are unified, heavily armed, passionate and loyal — at least, they were under his leadership — and Mr. Ibrahim had repeatedly rebuffed efforts to make peace with the government.
According to a statement from the Sudanese military issued early Sunday, “The armed forces were able to destroy the renegade Khalil Ibrahim, who was killed among his group’s leaders after a long chase that ended in surrounding him and his forces.”
The statement blamed Mr. Ibrahim for attacking unarmed civilians and said that “the armed forces were able to cut the escapees’ line of retreat that was heading toward South Sudan.”
Mr. Ibrahim is believed to have recently reached out to the leaders of newly independent South Sudan for help in his battle against Khartoum, but it was not clear how eager the Southern Sudanese were to get embroiled in another war after fighting Khartoum for decades. Before he became a rebel leader, Mr. Ibrahim served as a militia commander aligned with the central government, and he was blamed for killing countless southerners during Sudan’s civil war, which may have been another reason the Southern Sudanese were reluctant to back him.
Tayeb Zein al-Abideen, a political scientist at the University of Khartoum, said that although the Justice and Equality Movement may remain a potent force, Mr. Ibrahim’s death would benefit the Sudanese government.
“Ibrahim was able to establish the movement’s foreign relations with Chad, Libya and Eritrea, and there was no competition with him inside his movement,” Mr. Tayeb said. “It will be difficult to replace him.”
Few in Khartoum have forgotten that Mr. Ibrahim and several thousand of his rebels streamed across the desert from Darfur in a phalanx of battered pickup trucks in May 2008, making it to Omdurman, a city across the Nile River from the capital. Government forces managed to repel the rebels only after intense firefights, which are unusual in Khartoum.
Most of the bloodshed in Sudan has occurred far from the capital, in the impoverished peripheries, like Darfur, where marginalized, non-Arab groups have risen up against the Arab-dominated central government. Many analysts said that Mr. Ibrahim must have been aided by turncoats inside Sudan’s security services during his ambitious raid in 2008 to have been able to get so close to Khartoum.
Lately, though, Mr. Ibrahim, who was thought to have been around 50 years old, was more exposed than ever. His chief patron and weapons supplier, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya, has been overthrown and killed. His old sanctuary, Chad, recently made peace with Sudan — at least on paper —and essentially kicked out Mr. Ibrahim and his followers.
Security experts said Mr. Ibrahim had been hiding in Darfur and was planning attacks against the Sudanese Army. Last month, his movement and several other rebel groups announced they were forming the Sudan Revolutionary Front, a military alliance to topple the Khartoum government.