Mozambique: The Scimitar of Jihad Descends on the North of the Country

April 27, 2021
Images from an ISIS propaganda video

Several Catholic organizations are trying to alert public opinion to the dramatic situation in the Cabo Delgado region, in the north of the country. Massacres being committed by jihadist militias have intensified since the end of March, while the Church accuses the government of passivity.

The director of the Institute for Peace - an entity of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Southern Africa (SACBC) - explains: “We tried to talk about it, but no one cared to listen. There is a global outcry now because a handful of foreigners have been affected. But this has been going on for a long time. More than 3,000 innocent Mozambicans have died in this violence and no one cared.”

“Every life matters. As a Catholic organization, we believe that we are all created in the image of God. The tone of the letter received at ACI Africa on April 4, 2021 is more than alarming.

The Denis Hurley Institute for Peace (DHPI) - an organ dependent on the SACBC - reports on the extent of the crisis that is hitting Mozambique, and which has just reached a new peak of horror, during the latest attack jihadist launched on March 24 on the coastal city of Palma.

When they launched their raid on the modest city, 15 km from the gas installations owned by the Total group, the attackers were not very numerous, but determined: a hundred men at most, according to local sources and foreigners.

Five days later, the Islamic State (IS) organization claimed responsibility for the operation of the insurgents of Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa - or more simply Al-Chabab (“the young people”), in its publication Al-Naba.

A video, allegedly taken in Palma after the attack, and viewed by the Catholic organization Aid to the Church in Need (AEN), showed bodies beheaded and horribly mutilated.

Ulrich Kny, Project Manager at AEN for Mozambique, reacted to these atrocities: “The images we have seen are shocking. We cannot even share them because they wound human dignity by their brutality. The terrorists seem to want to cause maximum damage and sow the greatest terror in their destructive frenzy. We wonder how many more deaths there must be before the world does something to stop this violence. These lives do not seem to count. It tears my heart out.”

There is uncertainty about the human toll, but the civilian victims would number in the dozens, while more than 10,000 people were forced to flee Palma for Pemba.

Lelis Quintanilla, DHPI Mozambique project manager, testifies that thousands of families fleeing violence have already arrived in Pemba. According to the United Nations, the capital of Cabo Delgado has already seen its population of 200,000 inhabitants increase by three quarters since last February.

“Pemba does not have sufficient infrastructure to support the influx of refugees,” worries Manuel Nota, local head of the Catholic organization Caritas.

The bishop of Pemba, Msgr. Luiz Fernando Lisboa, earlier this year wrote a very critical letter questioning the passive attitude of the government in the face of the resurgence of deadly attacks in the region: since then the prelate has had to leave for his homeland, Brazil, on February 11, 2021, after receiving death threats.

In early April, the Mozambican army said it had regained control of the coastal town.

For its part, the energy group Total has decided to suspend its oil extraction project in the region, a project worth nearly 17 billion euros: a windfall the country needs.

More than 3,000 people have died and 700,000 have been displaced since Islamist insurgents, who pledged allegiance to ISIS, began terrorizing Cabo Delgado in 2017.