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ISIL-linked attackers behead 50 people in northern Mozambique

Civilians reel as violence spins out of control in Mozambique

Thursday 12 November 2020, by siawi3


ISIL-linked attackers behead 50 people in northern Mozambique

Witnesses say the assailants herded victims onto a football pitch in the village of Muatide where the killings were carried out.

Photo: A woman holds her child in the village of Aldeia da Paz after it was attacked in 2019 [Marci Longari/AFP]

10 Nov 2020

Police say attackers beheaded and dismembered more than 50 people in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province over the past three days as violence in the area continues.

The ISIL-linked fighters attacked several villages in the districts of Miudumbe and Macomia, killing civilians, abducting women and children and burning down homes, Bernardino Rafael, commander-general of Mozambique’s police said during a media briefing on Monday.

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“They burned the houses then went after the population who had fled to the woods and started with their macabre actions,” said Rafael.

Witnesses told local media the assailants herded residents onto the local football field in the village of Muatide where the killings were carried out.

Security forces in gas-rich Cabo Delgado province have been fighting the armed group – which pledged allegiance to ISIL (ISIS) last year – since 2017.

But some analysts have questioned how serious the ISIL (ISIS) link really is, saying the root of the unrest may be poverty and inequality rather than religion. Little is known about the fighters who call themselves al-Shabab – although they have no known links to the group of that name operating in Somalia.

The unrest has killed more than 2,000 people since 2017 – more than half of them civilians, according to the US-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

The violent attacks in Cabo Delgado have triggered a humanitarian crisis with more than 300,000 internally displaced people and 712,000 in need of humanitarian assistance, according to an Amnesty International report released last month.

Shock and grief

Gunmen 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 decapitated and several women abducted.

A separate group of fighters attacked Muatide village where they beheaded more than 50 people, the news agency reported.

Villagers were chopped to pieces in an atrocity carried out from Friday night to Sunday, Pinnancle News portal reported.

The dismembered bodies of at least five adults and 15 boys were found on Monday scattered across a forest clearing in Muidumbe district.

“Police learnt of the massacre committed by the insurgents through reports of people who found corpses in the woods,” said an officer in the neighbouring Mueda district who asked not to be named.

“It was possible to count 20 bodies spread over an area of about 500 metres (1,640 feet). These were young people who were at an initiation rite ceremony accompanied by their advisers.”

An aid worker in Mueda, who also declined to be named, confirmed the killings had taken place, saying some of the boys had come from that area. She said body parts had been sent to their families for burial on Tuesday.

“Funerals were held in an environment of great pain,” said the worker. “The bodies were already decomposing and couldn’t be shown to those present.”

The armed group has stepped up its offensive in recent months and violently seized swathes of territory, terrifying citizens in the process.

In April, attackers shot dead and beheaded more than 50 youths for allegedly refusing to join their ranks.

Cabo Delgado is home to a multibillion-dollar liquefied natural gas project by French multinational Total.



Civilians reel as violence spins out of control in Mozambique

Solution in Cabo Delgado conflict seems further away than ever as gruesome attacks aggravate an already dire humanitarian crisis.

Photo: The conflict has displaced more than 350,000 people [File: Ricardo Franco/EPA]

Tom Bowker
11 Nov 2020

Maputo, Mozambique – When Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi last month visited some of the areas in the gas-rich northern province of Cabo Delgado that have been hit by an escalating conflict, he was accosted by a man who had an urgent demand.

“We’re not asking for support,” the man said, after Nyusi pointed to humanitarian assistance being provided to the hundreds of thousands of people forced to leave their homes due to the deadly fighting between an armed group linked to ISIL (ISIS) and government forces.

“We want the war to stop.”

The war, however, has not stopped. Instead, it seems to be entering a particularly gruesome new phase, if reports of dozens of recent beheadings in Cabo Delgado’s Muidumbe district turn out to be true.

Less than two weeks ago, just as Muidumbe was getting back on its feet after its main villages were overrun in April, ISIL-linked fighters launched another assault on the district.

The attackers reportedly faced stiff resistance in some quarters from a local militia led by veterans of Mozambique’s war of independence in the 1960s-70s – but have taken revenge by conducting mass beheadings in a football stadium in Muatide village, according to Pinnacle News, an outlet based in northern Mozambique with a network of correspondents across Cabo Delgado.

The United Nations chief expressed shock at “the reports of massacres … including the reported beheading and kidnapping of women and children” and called Mozambique’s authorities to investigate the incidents.

Muidumbe is further inland than the locations that have mostly been affected by the surging violence, which began in October 2017 when members of a shadowy armed group, which later pledged allegiance to ISIL, attacked police stations in the key port town of Mocimboa da Praia.

It is also uncomfortably close to the town of Mueda, home to the Mozambican military’s most important base in Cabo Delgado.

Mueda itself has yet to come under attack, but nor has the military stationed there managed to retake Mocimboa da Praia, which remains out of the government’s control four months after it was seized by the fighters following fierce battles with Mozambican marines aided by South African mercenaries.

Mocimboa da Praia’s port is strategically important for liquefied natural gas projects led by Total and ExxonMobil that are being developed on a fortified peninsula a short way up the coast, close to the town of Palma.

Those gas projects should transform Mozambique’s economy and help bring Cabo Delgado – a province where development, and poverty reduction, has fallen dramatically short of that seen in the south of the country – out of poverty.

But that dream seems further away than ever since news broke in early November that a flagship project to use some of the gas in the country has been cancelled. Norwegian fertiliser giant Yara informed the government last month that it would not go ahead with a planned plant that would have used gas from the projects in Cabo Delgado to make fertiliser, local business news website Zitamar News reported – as the government was unable to guarantee gas to Yara at a low enough price.

The failure of the Yara project is “a classic of what has caused the insurgency”, according to Joseph Hanlon, a veteran journalist who has been writing about Mozambique since the 1970s.

“In five years, the government have done nothing to use the gas for domestic development. Nothing,” he said. “If they’d got Yara on board they’d have transformed Mozambique’s agriculture. But they just didn’t care.”

Meanwhile, the failure to take back control of Mocimboa da Praia may prove to be a big strategic mistake, according to Jasmine Opperman of the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).

“We have seen new recruits going and joining them freely and willingly” in the town, Opperman warned during an Institute for Security Studies webinar on November 4.

The beach at Paquitequete has become one of the main arrival points for people fleeing the violence in Cabo Delgado [File: Ricardo Franco/EPA]
The fighting in Cabo Delgado has killed 2,283 people since it started more than three years ago, according to ACLED, and 355,000 have been forced to leave their homes, the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said at the end of last month.

Rights groups say the fighters in Cabo Delgado have carried out summary executions, beheadings, raids on villages, looting, and destruction of infrastructure, including schools and medical facilities. Government forces have also been implicated in grave human rights abuses during operations in the province including arbitrary arrests, torture, wrongful use of force against civilians and extrajudicial executions.

Last month, the fighters apparently cleared an area of coastal Cabo Delgado known as Mucojo. Young people were abducted, men were killed, and survivors fled to nearby islands and ultimately to the provincial capital of Pemba, according to reports.

The beach at Paquitequete, Pemba’s most densely-populated neighbourhood, received well above 10,000 internally displaced people arriving by dhow in the second half of October – the majority of them children.

One such boat capsized on October 29, and 54 people drowned.

Emboldened, the fighters have also expanded their sphere of operation north into Tanzania, crossing the Rovuma River that marks the border between the two countries to carry out raids on villages in Tanzania’s Mtwara region.

The first such raid came two weeks before Tanzania’s presidential election last month when 200 fighters attacked the town of Kitaya, according to the Tanzanian police chief.

Since then, more attacks have been reported – despite a robust response from the Tanzanian security forces, who have also deported some 1,000 refugees back into Cabo Delgado in recent weeks.

Mozambique’s Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosário travelled to the Tanzanian capital of Dodoma on November 5 for President John Magufuli’s inauguration and had a private meeting with him to discuss the situation on the border.

Aware that the conflict will not only have a military solution, Mozambique’s government has created a new economic development agency for the north of the country, focusing on Cabo Delgado.

The first task of the Northern Integrated Development Agency is to help deal with the humanitarian catastrophe – but in the long term, it aims to promote development that will create much-needed employment in the region.

As the fighting spins out of control and investors leave, however, a solution seems further away than ever.