Mozambique police have reported that more 50 people have been beheaded in northern Mozambique by militant Islamists 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 announced in a media briefing.
“They burned the houses then went after the population who had fled to the woods and started with their macabre actions,” he added.
Witnesses told local media the assailants drove residents onto the local football field in the village of Muatide where the killings were carried out.
The gunmen chanted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”, in English), fired shots, and set homes alight when they raided Nanjaba village.
The state media also reported that several people were also beheaded in another village with the dismembered bodies of at least five adults and 15 boys were found 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.”
The beheadings are the latest in a series of gruesome attacks that the militants have carried out in gas-rich Cabo Delgado province since 2017. Many locals have complained that they have benefited little from the province’s ruby and gas industries.
It is estimated that up to 2,000 people have been killed and about 430,000 have been left homeless in the conflict in the mainly-Muslim province.
The violent attacks 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.
The militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) group have exploited poverty and unemployment to recruit youth in their fight to establish Islamic rule in the area. It has also stepped up its offensive in recent months and violently seized swathes of territory, terrorizing citizens in the process.
“Now they have guns and vehicles, so they move easily and can attack widely. And they are using soldiers’ uniforms. So, people are very confused, and very afraid,” said the Catholic Bishop of Pemba, Luiz Fernando Lisboa.
Mozambique’s government has appealed for international help to curb the insurgency, saying its troops need specialised training.
In April, more than 50 people were beheaded or shot dead in an attack on a village in Cabo Delgado and earlier this month, nine people were beheaded in the same province.
Human rights groups say Mozambican security forces have also carried human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, torture and killings, during operations to curb the insurgency.
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