According to the country’s government-funded media, more than 50 people in a village in northern Mozambique were beheaded by fighters linked to the Islamic State Terrorist Group (ISIS).
Militants turned a soccer field into an “execution ground” where the dismembered bodies of the victims were found scattered. Several people were also beheaded in another nearby village.
The police confirmed the attack in the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, which has experienced a series of cruel attacks since 2017. The conflict in this predominantly Muslim province has killed up to 2,000 people and left around 430,000 homeless.
Cabo Delgado – a province rich in rubies and gas – is considered a base for the terrorist group in southern Africa, where militants use poverty and unemployment as a means of recruiting vulnerable young members.
Bernardino Rafael, the general commander of the Mozambican police, reported at a media conference that violence in the area increased for several days as ISIS-affiliated extremists targeted villages in the Miudumbe and Macomia districts of Cabo Delgado, killing people, kidnapping women and children, and burning down houses, Al Jazeera reports.
“They burned the houses and then persecuted the population that had fled into the forests and began their macabre actions,” Rafael said.
Some of the militants fired shots in the air and shouted “Allahu Akbar” when they raided the village of Nanjaba on Friday night, the BBC reports. It claims that the Mozambique state news agency quoted survivors who said that two people had been beheaded and several women abducted.
A separate group carried out the beheadings of more than 50 people in the village of Muatide. The victims who tried to flee were “chopped to pieces” during the atrocity, which took place from Friday night to Sunday. The remains of at least 15 boys who were attending a male initiation ceremony when the militants struck were found among the dead, the Associated Press reports.
“The police learned of the massacre perpetrated by the insurgents from reports of people who had found bodies in the forest,” said a police spokesman in the Mueda district. “It was possible to count 20 bodies spread over an area of about 500 meters.”
Mozambique’s government has asked for international help and has stated that its troops need special training to stop the rise of extremism in Mozambique. Human rights groups say, however, that the government troops carried their own human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, torture and killings, during the operations to contain the insurgency.
In recent months, terrorists have allegedly stepped up their efforts to build on the Islamist rebellion in the remote villages in the north of the country by occupying land and terrorizing rural communities. Mozambique’s fighters are known locally as al-Shabab, although the group has no known connections to the Somali Jihadi group of the same name, which is linked to al-Qaeda.
Last year, the group pledged its loyalty to ISIS. In April, more than 50 young people were shot and dismembered because they allegedly refused to join their ranks.
The riots have so far killed over 2,000 people, more than half of them civilians, according to the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Group. Over 400,000 more have been displaced by the conflict and sought refuge in nearby towns.
About 10,000 people fled by boat to the provincial capital of Pemba last week alone, MSF said, expressing concerns about access to clean water and sanitation.