Mozambique Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa said that citizens are “terrified” over a spate of recent jihadist attacks in the country, as emboldened Islamists show no sign of letting up in their assaults.
“They left a message that they would be returning. The people are afraid,” Bishop Lisboa told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in reference to a jihadist takeover of Mocímboa da Praia last week. Both the Islamic State and Somalia-based paramilitaries Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama have taken credit for the raid on the port town.
On March 23, jihadists raided Mocímboa da Praia, setting fire to public buildings, releasing prisoners from the local jail, and flying a black jihadi flag while marching in the streets.
“If they can attack Mocímboa, which is the largest town in the region, then the people of Palma, Mueda and Macomia have reason to feel themselves in danger,” the bishop said. “The people are terrified. They were already frightened before, but now it’s worse.”
Two days later, on March 25, more Islamic militants reportedly attacked the town of Quissanga.
“They came and went as they pleased. There was no effective response by the security forces,” Bishop Lisboa said. “Many of them fled, because the attackers were more numerous than they were, leaving them free to help themselves to food, supplies, vehicles and military equipment.
“Some of the attackers were dressed in military uniform,” he added. “The reinforcements that were called for arrived only after the attackers had dispersed.”
“It is a tragedy. What is happening in Mozambique is a disgrace. It is a real shame that our people should be humiliated in this way,” the bishop said.
Jihadist insurgency has escalated dangerously in Mozambique since October 2017, building toward an even more significant escalation in mid-2019. Insurgency related incidents in January 2020 reached the second highest one-month total since the beginning of attacks in 2017.
The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for a lethal attack in Cabo Delgado province in early March, in which a number of soldiers from the Mozambique army were killed, as well as an attack on February 19 in which killed four soldiers were killed in the Palma district.
The March 23 attack, however, was the first full-scale jihadist assault on a major urban center.
“The attacks this week have intensified the feeling of insecurity,” Bishop Lisboa said. “Nevertheless, the Catholic Church will continue to stay close to the people, despite the obvious danger of further armed attacks.”