Mozambique: Communities and churches attacked as insurgency intensifies in Cabo Delgado

Missionaries, priests and religious sisters have been forced to flee from remote towns and villages to Pemba and other large cities, which are overwhelmed with displaced people.

According to information provided to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) by missionaries on the ground, several new and simultaneous attacks by armed insurgents continue to shake the province of Cabo Delgado in the north of Mozambique. The activities of Islamist insurgent groups have intensified in the region, creating an extremely complicated situation and an atmosphere of fear and insecurity.

The insurgency in northern Mozambique began in 2017 but has seen an increase in attacks since the beginning of 2024. In the last few days alone there have been several new raids on towns and villages, and people have been killed or kidnapped.

On 9 February, the terrorists, who claim allegiance to the Islamic State, attacked three communities in the area of Mazeze, 100 kilometre south from Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado. “Churches were burned, as were the homes of the population”, says a local missionary, who asked not to be identified for security reasons. The attacks, along with rumours of further terrorist movement in neighbouring locations, led to the displacement of hundreds of people, who in many cases walked long distances through the bush to find refuge in Pemba or in the closest nearby city of Chiúre, causing overcrowding.

Attacks in Cabo Deldado - refugees on a truck
Refugees fleeing on a truck from the attacks in Cabo Delgado.

A female missionary, who also asked not to be identified, said the terrorists destroyed houses and churches in several villages and are now “spread throughout the southern and central districts” of Cabo Delgado, though “the final goal of the movements or attacks are not clear” yet. “The situation”, she explained, “is very, very complicated.”

“Yes, many missionaries have also been displaced”, says a local priest to ACN, “the priest who was in one of the communities has moved to Pemba, the centre of the diocese, as have the religious sisters who lived nearby. Other missionaries are following suit, to protect themselves, but also to protect the population”, he confirmed. In fact, leaving is sometimes a way to protect the people, because quite often if the priests or sisters remain in the villages people feel safe and stay with them, which can leave them exposed to attacks.

Bolder methods

Initially, the insurgents mostly targeted military or government structures, as well as villages and civilian communities, and did not discriminate between Muslims, who are a majority in this region of Mozambique, and Christians. However, over the past years, there have been reports of attacks on specifically Christian targets and communities, including cases where the jihadists separated Christians from Muslims and executed the former.

“The village that was attacked in the Chiúre region had already been attacked around two years ago, but the religious issue is not only against Catholics”, said the priest who spoke to ACN. “They have not limited their attacks to villages with Christian churches. As always, they attack absolutely everything, including churches, but also mosques, but they especially target the population and their houses”.

Refugee settlement
Refugee settlement in the diocese of Pemba.

Besides an increase in the number of attacks, the terrorists also seem to be becoming bolder in their methods. In a recent attack against the town of Mucojo, in January, rather than destroying houses and fleeing back into the bush, the jihadists remained for at least two days, despite the nearby presence of the armed forces of Mozambique, and of other allied countries which are trying to help stem the violence. Just over a week later, on 31 January, terrorists ambushed a military convoy, killing two Mozambican soldiers.

The insurgency in Mozambique has already caused at least five thousand deaths, leading to the displacement of over one million people, although these numbers are dated and so the current figures are probably significantly higher.

The Catholic Church is deeply involved in supporting the displaced people in northern Mozambique and in trying to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, having been critical of both the terrorists and the Government’s heavy-handed response.

Mozambique, especially the Cabo Delgado region, is a priority country for ACN in the African continent. The international charity has supported several projects, including pastoral assistance and psychosocial support for the victims of terrorism, and also the supply of materials for the construction of community centres and the acquisition of vehicles for the missionaries who work with the resettlement centres that welcome families fleeing from violence.

 

By Paulo Aido.

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