Jihadist raids in Mozambique trigger a new exodus

Jihadist raids in Mozambique trigger a new exodus


Even the exhaustion of walking 40 kilometers in front of jihadists who had attacked her village could not hide the trauma on Maria Lourenco’s face.

An indelible image was engraved in her mind.

“They beheaded two men and put their heads in a basin,” she told AFP.

“Then they turned over the heads of the wife of one of the victims to present to the authorities,” she said.

Their village in the Katapua area of ??Cabo Delgado province, the epicenter of a five-year-old jihadist insurgency in northern Mozambique, was attacked last weekend.

The 60-year-old grandmother fled on foot with her eight daughters and grandchildren to the city of Chiure, 40 kilometers away.

In blue flip-flops and holding a makeshift walking stick, she stood in the town square waiting for her daughter-in-law to take her to the provincial capital, Pemba.

The family’s horrific experience underscores that despite the military achievements of the past year, Mozambique’s jihadist nightmare is far from over.

The uprising erupted in October 2017 when militants – now known as members of the Islamic State group – attacked coastal areas in northern Cabo Delgado, near the Tanzanian border.

Bloody attacks on villages were followed by the capture of the port of Mocimboa da Praia in 2020 – a key element of a huge plan to develop liquefied natural gas in the region.

In 2021, as Mozambique’s military faltered, Rwanda and the country’s neighbors dispatched more than 3,000 troops to help drive militants out of their strongholds.

But the jihadists are now invading the previously pristine south of Cabo Delgado, encroaching on the neighboring provinces of Nampula and Niassa.

The uprising has so far claimed the lives of more than 4,300 people, and around a million people have fled their homes.

– ‘culprit’ –

An AFP correspondent in Chiure, a town of around 100,000, saw around 500 people displaced from Katapua since the weekend.

They gathered in front of the city’s main square. Many had slept badly outdoors. Others sheltered on store porches, watching over a few belongings tied in big sheets and foam mattresses they’d taken with them.

Along the dusty road that connected Chiure to Katapua, several women, men and children wandered on foot, their belongings balancing on heads or on bicycles.

“Many arrived in the early hours of the morning exhausted and complaining of pain,” said Consolta Paulo, a nurse in Chiure.

Villagers reported new raids in Katapua on Monday.

“The culprits rampaged through the village and burned down a chapel,” Katapua’s chief administrator, Xavier Jamal, told AFP by phone.

He said it appeared the attackers were the same group that raided a ruby ??mine near Montepuez last week.

London-listed ruby ??mining giant Gemfields suspended operations at its Montepuez mine after attacking a neighboring site.

Jamal appealed to the villagers not to flee, insisting that the military “is on the ground and has the situation under control”.

But locals have little confidence in Mozambique’s ill-trained and ill-equipped armed forces.

Elias Mario, 36, a small farmer, fled Katapua with his wife and two children. He stood by his bike, shoulders down.

“I brought my family here, but we still don’t know where we’re going,” he said.

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