CABO DELGADO, MOZAMBIQUE/WASHINGTON – At least nine civilians were killed in new attacks carried out by Islamist insurgents in the restive province of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, local sources said.
The attacks on the districts of Mocimboa da Praia and Macomia of Cabo Delgado on Wednesday forced the local population to flee their homes, seeking safety in nearby woods, residents told VOA.
A group of armed men “hooded with Islamic handkerchiefs” invaded the village of Tandacua in Macomia, searching for food, according to a local resident.
The insurgents “arrived around 6 in the evening [local time], so many residents fled the village,” the resident, who declined to give his name, told VOA.
“When we returned the next day, we found eight dead people who were beheaded,” the resident said, adding that “the security situation is getting more complicated.”
On Tuesday, Islamist militants entered the district of Mocimboa da Praia, killing one civilian at a flour mill before seizing food and livestock.
The insurgents “entered Mocimboa da Praia twice this week,” said Zunaid, a Mocimboa da Praia resident who gave only his first name.
“After they killed a man on Tuesday and left, they went in again [on Wednesday] to steal more food,” he told VOA.
“All residents are in the woods out of fear,” Zunaid said, noting that “there are more military personnel than the local population, but al-Shabab [militants] still come in and attack us.”
Since 2017, militant attacks on civilians and government security forces in Cabo Delgado have killed more than 1,000 people and displaced over 210,000 others, according to the United Nations.
Locally known as al-Shabab, Ahlu Sunna wa Jama is the main militant group responsible for these attacks in northern Mozambique. It is considered to be the Mozambique affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) terror group.
However, Eric Morier-Genoud, a Mozambique expert at Queen’s University Belfast, says there is little “evidence that the Islamic State is behind this group, which radicalized its positions in the face of many existing inequalities” in the Muslim-majority province.
“The group has approached the Islamic State, but it has little influence yet,” he told VOA, adding that the extent of the connection between the local militant group and IS “basically has been an exchange of information up to now.”
In April 2019, IS declared its so-called Central African Province, known as ISCAP. Attacks attributed to its Central African Province affiliate have been limited to Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In recent months, militants have stepped up their attacks in Cabo Delgado, leading experts to predict that the conflict will likely continue for a long time.
Murade Murargy, former executive secretary of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), says he doesn’t “believe a solution to the conflict in Cabo Delgado will be reached in the short term, but in the medium or long term.”
The Mozambican diplomat told reporters this week that the insurgency in the northern Mozambican province “is beyond the religious question, but it has an economic aspect as well.”
Cabo Delgado is a gas-rich region where major international oil and gas companies, including ExxonMobil and Total, have several investment projects.
Observers say that some of the militants fighting in northern Mozambique are allegedly Tanzanian nationals. Tanzania, which borders Cabo Delgado to the north, recently deployed troops to the border area to prevent a spillover of the unfolding violence in the Mozambican province.
Mozambican officials, however, believe they need to tighten their borders to stop the flow of foreign fighters into the country.
“Those who attack us, burn our houses and destroy the infrastructure are based outside the country,” said Bernardino Rafael, commander-in-chief of the Mozambican Police, without naming any countries.
They “enter through our borders, which we have to close so that the terrorists do not enter and those who enter do not leave,” Rafael said during a recent speech in the capital, Maputo.
Murargy also asserted that militants have been penetrating Cabo Delgado by sea and across the border with Tanzania.
South Africa is reportedly preparing to deploy troops to Mozambique to help combat the insurgency in Cabo Delgado, the online newspaper Carta de Mocambique reported Thursday. South African and Mozambican officials, however, have not made official comments on the matter.
In May, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi called on regional governments to support his country in driving out the jihadists.
VOA’s Alvaro Andrade from Washington and Ramos Miguel from Maputo contributed to this report.