Seven men were killed and four women abducted in northern Mozambique in the latest violence to hit the Cabo Delgado region, local sources said on Friday, February 8.
The bodies of the men, which were cut into pieces, were left in Piqueue village, a local traditional leader told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“People were surprised while sleeping in the forest,” he said, indicating that the residents had fled the village for fear of being attacked.
The attackers also kidnapped four women, he said.
The Defense Post has reviewed graphic images shared on social media showing bodies cut into many pieces but is unable to verify they are from Piqueue.
Mozambican police declined to comment, but a local army commander confirmed the attack.
“We urge people to stay in villages where they have protection from the police and the military,” he said.
The gruesome killings are the latest in a wave of attacks apparently carried out by Islamist militants that began in northern Mozambique in late 2017.
Cabo Delgado province is expected to become the center of a natural gas industry after promising offshore discoveries near Palma. The vast gas deposits could transform the impoverished country’s economy, with experts predicting that Mozambique could even become the world’s third-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.
But the country’s north has largely been excluded from the economic growth of the last 20 years, creating fertile ground for radical Islamist ideology.
Many violent incidents have been blamed on an Islamist group called Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama, known locally as “al-Shabaab.”
Researchers have said the Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama leadership has links to Islamist groups based in Tanzania, Somalia, Kenya and in the Great Lakes region, where some also received training, Reuters reported.
President Filipe Nyusi vowed to “neutralize” the threat and sent heavy reinforcements to the region where hundreds of people have been arrested.
Human Rights Watch has accused security forces of serious human rights violations and several journalists have been arrested in the area.
On January 29, police arrested three Ugandans on suspicion of leading attacks in northern Mozambique, and said the arrests had enabled them to shut down several “training camps.”
Police said the three suspects confessed to belonging an Al-Shabaab cell in Uganda, but the suspects insisted they were in Mozambique to find their leader, who had been arrested there.
In December, prosecutors named three men including South African Andre Mayer Hanekom among leaders of the group, charging them with murder, crimes against the state and inciting civil disobedience among a raft of other offences.
But 61-year-old Hanekom died under mysterious circumstances after being transferred from prison to hospital on January 19. His wife Francis, who had previously rubbished the charges against him as “nonsense,” said that the doctor who admitted him said that his symptoms looked “like poisoning.” His body was repatriated on January 31 for further autopsies.
Cutlass Express exercise
This week, several hundred military personnel from 15 countries including the United States, Canada, Kenya and Madagascar completed a training exercise off the northern coast of Mozambique.
An annual maritime exercise, “Cutlass Express” aims to improve coordination against the drug smuggling, human trafficking and illegal fishing that allegedly funds extremists in East Africa and the Indian Ocean.
Bryan Hunt, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Maputo, said the United States was ready to assist in quelling the Islamists.
“We are available and would like to help Mozambique fighting insurgent groups,” Hunt said this week.
“We already have several programs in the maritime field and we would like to increase the level of cooperation between the two countries.”
The violence in northern Mozambique has raised concern among U.S. energy firms seeking to drill major gas deposits off the coast.
With reporting from AFP