10 July 2020, The Tablet

Islamists on the rise in Mozambique, Church groups warn

Mozambique has already been battered by the coronavirus pandemic, and a 2019 cyclone which displaced over 100,000 people.

Islamists on the rise in Mozambique, Church groups warn

A Catholic Church in Mocímboa da Praia, attacked by armed extremists on the 27th and 28th of June 2020.
© Aid to The Church in Need

Church groups in Mozambique have raised the alarm over the increasing threat of Islamist terror groups in the East African nation after a series of attacks killed over one hundred civilians.

Over the past fortnight, Islamist group Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah has mounted attacks across the northern Mocimboa da Praia and Macomia districts of Mozambique, with an estimated death toll of over a hundred, and several villages simply abandoned. The attack on the town of Mocimboa da Praia on 27 June was the fourth since the beginning of the islamist insurgency in October 2017.

The Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has warned that these incidents could prove to be the prelude to an Islamist takeover of the north of the country. Speaking to ACN, Sister Joaquina Tarse, of the Daughters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, said that it is “clear” that the Islamists “want to seize control of the entire province”. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled), the insurgency has killed nearly 1000 people since its inception, with the majority of attacks targeting isolated villages. The increasingly ambitious attacks of Islamist groups has concerned Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of Pemba, who spoke to ACN of his concerns that the focus of Islamist activities is motivated by a desire to seize natural resources. Access to such resources could allow Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah  to establish permanent control over the region. 

Extremist violence has prompted a serious humanitarian crisis in Mozambique, where the population is  thought to be roughly evenly split between Muslims and mostly Catholic Christians. Around 200,000 people have been internally displaced by the insurgency, according to Bishop Lisboa. Although insurgents for the moment seem focused on seizing control of the northern region of Mozambique, they have singled out Christian buildings and believers for persecution. Earlier this year a benedictine monastery was attacked by insurgents, forcing several of the monks to flee, and several Catholic churches and other buildings have been demolished or attacked. 

On Monday 6 July, the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs called for “decisive action” to prevent a permanent base of operations for Islamist groups being established in Mozambique. The committee called on the European Commission to help the government of Mozambique resolve the current crisis. Alongside the coronavirus pandemic, and cyclone Idai, which displaced over 100,000 citizens in 2019, the Islamist insurgency has pushed the resources of Mozambique’s government to the limit. In light of this, last month, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs called for  the international community to donate at least $103m in aid to Mozambique.

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