Islamist militants fighting for control of the gas-rich Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique held a mass execution on a soccer field over the weekend, beheading over 50 people and chopping their bodies to pieces.
Mozambique has been under attack by jihadis linked to the Islamic State for several years. The campaign escalated significantly when the jihadis focused their efforts on the vital port city of Mocimboa da Praia in late 2017, with an eye toward capturing or disrupting Mozambique’s lucrative natural gas industry.
The militants took control of Mocimboa da Praia and several other northern towns in the summer of 2020, inflicting a major setback on government troops and private security forces hired to protect the gas pipelines.
The insurgency calls itself Ahlu-Sunnah Wa-Jama, a name imported from a faction of the Al-Shabaab terrorist organization in Somalia. Some Mozambicans simply refer to the insurgents as “Al-Shabaab,” although security analysts believe the Mozambique insurgency has no direct links to the Somali group.
Ahlu-Sunnah Wa-Jama unmasked its fighters last April and declared its goal of establishing a “caliphate” in Mozambique. An attack on a Cabo Delgado village this month included nine beheadings and over forty people killed by gunfire.
The insurgency has displaced over 310,000 people and created a massive humanitarian crisis in northern Mozambique, including food shortages in a region that already suffered from chronic malnutrition.
The jihadis style themselves as a people’s revolutionary force seeking to recapture Mozambique’s wealth from greedy government officials and foreign exploitation. Mozambican civilians, especially those who are not Muslim, are terrified of the insurgency’s vicious tactics and constant depredations.
Ahlu-Sunnah Wa-Jama spent the weekend furnishing plenty of horrifying new depredations for citizens of Mozambique to be terrified of. The BBC reported widespread shock and revulsion at the ferocity and depravity of the jihadi attacks on several villages in the northern Cabo Delgado province:
The gunmen chanted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”, in English), fired shots, and set homes alight when they raided Nanjaba village on Friday night, the state-owned Mozambique News Agency quoted survivors as saying.
Two people were beheaded in the village and several women abducted, the news agency added.
A separate group of militants carried out another brutal attack on Muatide village, where they beheaded more than 50 people, the news agency reported.
Villagers who tried to flee were caught, and taken to the local football pitch where they were beheaded and chopped to pieces in an atrocity carried out from Friday night to Sunday, privately-run Pinnacle News reported.
Bernardino Rafael, commander-general of the Mozambican police, told a press conference on Monday that the insurgents attacked several villages, killed civilians, burned houses, and kidnapped women and children.
“They burned the houses then went after the population who had fled to the woods and started with their macabre actions,” Rafael said.
Rafael’s officers said pieces of at least 20 victims were found scattered through a forest in Muidumbe district.
“It was possible to count 20 bodies spread over an area of about 500 meters. These were young people who were at an initiation rite ceremony accompanied by their advisers,” an anonymous police officer told reporters.
“Funerals were held in an environment of great pain. The bodies were already decomposing and couldn’t be shown to those present,” an aid worker added.
Critics of the Mozambican government blame its policies for lending strength to the insurgency, noting that Cabo Delgado is a desperately poor area whose residents have benefited little from lucrative oil, gas, and gemstone mining operations. Government security forces have been accused of human rights violations in their battle to suppress the insurgency.
The U.S. State Department’s 2019 report on Mozambique cited “heavy-handed” police actions, including “unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; widespread acts of official corruption; and violence against women and inadequate government efforts to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise hold perpetrators accountable.”