Islamic militants in Mozambique are committing gruesome acts of terror against children, according to Save the Children UK.
The international relief agency reports that children as young as 11 have been apprehended and beheaded by militants in the Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado, which has been a center of conflict between insurgents and government forces over the past four years.
Save the Children quoted women who recounted horrible scenes of their children being killed by attackers. “That night our village was attacked, and houses were burned. When it all started, I was at home with my four children. We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him. We couldn’t do anything because we would be killed too,” said one of the women, whose age is given as 28.
“We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him.”
Another woman, 29, is quoted as saying, ““After my 11-year-old son was killed, we understood that it was no longer safe to stay in my village. We fled to my father’s house in another village, but a few days later the attacks started there too. Me, my father and the children spent five days eating green bananas and drinking banana tree water until we got transport that brought us here.”
Agency ‘appalled’ by actions
Chance Briggs, Save the Children’s country director in Mozambique, said the agency is appalled by reports of the killings.
“Reports of attacks on children sicken us to our core. Our staff have been brought to tears when hearing the stories of suffering told by mothers in displacement camps,” he said. “This violence has to stop, and displaced families need to be supported as they find their bearings and recover from the trauma.”
He added: “A major concern for us is that the needs of displaced children and their families in Cabo Delgado far outweigh the resources available to support them. Nearly a million people are facing severe hunger as a direct result of this conflict, including displaced people and host communities.”
The UK agency noted that since violence broke out in Cabo Delgado, at least 2,614 people have died in the conflict, including 1,312 civilians, and about 670,000 people have been displaced within the country. It stressed that the crisis has seriously worsened over the past 12 months, with escalating attacks on villages.
“While the world was focused on COVID-19, the Cabo Delgado crisis ballooned but has been grossly overlooked,” Briggs said. “Humanitarian aid is desperately required, but not enough donors have prioritized assistance for those who have lost everything, even their children.”
He urged all parties in the conflict to ensure that children never are targeted in their show of force.
Rebels designated as terrorists
The Save the Children UK alarm bell sounded just a week after the U.S. State Department designated the Mozambican rebels a foreign terrorist organization, alongside another terror group in Democratic Republic of the Congo. Both groups, it said, have ties with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL) and are classified as ISIS-Mozambique and ISIS-DRC.
The U.S. State Department designated the Mozambican rebels a foreign terrorist organization.
Shedding light on the former, the State Department said: “ISIS-Mozambique, also known as Ansar al-Sunna (and locally as al-Shabaab in Mozambique), among other names, reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS as early as April 2018, and was acknowledged by ISIS-Core as an affiliate in August 2019. Since October 2017, ISIS-Mozambique, led by Abu Yasir Hassan, has killed more than 1,300 civilians, and it is estimated that more than 2,300 civilians, security force members, and suspected ISIS-Mozambique militants have been killed since the terrorist group began its violent extremist insurgency.”
The State Department added that the terrorist group was responsible for “orchestrating a series of large-scale and sophisticated attacks resulting in the capture of the strategic port of Mocimboa da Praia, Cabo Delgado Province. ISIS-Mozambique’s attacks have caused the displacement of nearly 670,000 persons within northern Mozambique.”
Source of the conflict
The seed of the conflict in Cabo Delgado — a resource-rich area in the naturally endowed country — was sown after locals who had hoped to benefit from a multinational project in their land felt sidelined, according to a March 7 article in Al Jazeera authored by Anabela Lemos and Ilham Rawoot, both of Friends of the Earth Mozambique/Justica Ambiental.
“Since the discovery of a vast quantity of natural gas off the coast of Cabo Delgado in 2010, transnational energy giants all but took over the province,” they wrote. “The locals were initially promised jobs in the LNG industry, but these promises by the state and the energy companies did not materialize.
“As a result, those who have been displaced and lost their livelihoods because of the construction project grew angry and frustrated. They have been forced to watch international corporations and foreigners benefit from the lands they once called home as they struggled to make a living. Moreover, the Mozambican government neglected them and focused, instead, on pleasing the foreign investors. All this stirred anti-government sentiment in local communities and created a breeding ground for extremism.”
Journalists who sought to investigate and report the situation either suddenly went missing, were intimidated or arrested.
The authors claim that journalists who sought to investigate and report the situation in the troubled area either suddenly went missing, were intimidated or arrested by security officials or government agents.
That Mozambique — a country in the relatively stable region of Southeastern Africa — within a few years could face such calamity demonstrates how desperate the situation in the area is and why efforts should be geared toward ending the conflict.
‘Emergencies on top of emergencies’
Days before the Save the Children outcry over the beheading of children, a United Nations report had drawn attention to storms in Mozambique that killed hundreds of people and left more than 2 million others in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The storms, prior to Cyclone Eloise, include Cyclone Idai, Cyclone Kenneth and Chalane. António Guterres, U.N. secretary-general, said the storms created “emergencies on top of emergencies.”
The endless killings and displacement of people in the area and country generally only adds to the emergencies.
Observers fear that if left unchecked, the insurgency could end up being the southeastern region’s stormy petrel, thereby worsening an already bad security situation for the African continent particularly.
Anthony Akaeze is a Nigerian-born journalist who currently lives in Houston. He covers Africa for BNG.
This story is made possible by gifts to the Mark Wingfield Fund for Interpretive Journalism. Support this work here.