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Cabo Delgado witnessed the horrific beheadings of 50 civilians in the hands of Islamic Militants between the 6th and 9th of November. As narrated by Bernardino Rafael, the commander-general of police, “the attackers set villages on fire and captured people and began their gruesome killings.” Based on the statement from several witnesses, the fighters forcefully took these people from one village to a football ground and beheaded them there, turning it into an “execution ground”. These militants also abducted a huge number of children and women. On November 9th, in the Muidumbe district, dead bodies of at least 20 people were found scattered in the woods after mass killings were carried out. Healthcare staff in Mueda said that the body parts of all victims were sent to their grieving families for burial and funerals were conducted in an atmosphere of great dejection.
Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique has been the center stage of insurgency since 2017. The African region in particular has a history of Islamic extremism with several countries such as Libya, Tunisia, and now Mozambique being torn by the terror attacks staged by the Islamic terror groups. Islamic militants backed by the ‘Islamic State’ have been responsible for executing ruthless attacks on innocent civilians as well as recruiting young people in order to form an Islamic Caliphate. As per a study conducted by the ‘Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project’, fundamentalists have carried out more than 100 brutal attacks in 2020, which shows an increase of 300 percent as compared to the previous year. Although the insurgents call themselves ‘al-Shabab’, they do not have any known connection with the organization of that name in Somalia. The unrest has resulted in the death of more than 2,000 civilians and 300,000 people being displaced in the region. While the southern part of Africa has managed to keep itself aloof from extreme radicalism, the current situation in the northern region of Mozambique remains pitiful.
A recent report released by Amnesty International in October 2020 stated that a series of violent events in the Cabo Delgado province has caused a major humanitarian crisis in the region, with more than 700,000 people needing humanitarian assistance. Many human rights activists argue that the government forces have also been at the forefront in committing several forms of human rights violations and heinous atrocities in order to put an end to the rebellion. However, the defense ministry put down all these allegations stating that the militants usually impersonated the troops.
According to an article published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, the humanitarian scenario in Cabo Delgado has deteriorated even further in 2020. It has seen many escalating tensions build because of the state of chronic underdevelopment, natural disasters as well as repeated outbreaks of deadly diseases. The political unrest, displacements, and violence have also resulted in an increase in food insecurity in the region as hundred-thousands are facing starvation.
In April 2020, a militant group decapitated about 50 people as they refused to become a part of their ‘so-called Holy mission’.
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has conveyed his sense of utter disbelief and shock over the horrific event and strongly condemned such malicious brutality. He even urged the government to look into the matter and conduct a strict inquiry. He also mentioned that the United Nations will continue to help the Mozambican government and its citizens by providing aid, acknowledging any form of assistance required, protecting human rights, and preventing the rise of radicality. In fact, the government of Mozambique has made an appeal to various countries and humanitarian organizations for international support to curb the rebellion, saying its military needs specialized training to tackle the situation.
Eric Morier-Genoud, a senior professor of history at the Queens University in Belfast with his expertise in Mozambique, while speaking with the New York Times said that such beheadings would scare the masses as they are very similar to what happened in Iraq and Syria. He further highlights that “the situation in Mozambique stands grim and is worsening at a rapid pace due to the growing strength of the militants.”
Beheadings seem to be an extremely common trait in almost all attacks carried out by the Islamic State. Zenaida Machado, a Human Rights Watch researcher says “they often use machetes to slaughter their targets. While earlier they targeted government officials, healthcare workers, educationalists. Now they target random people.” Since Mozambique has restricted human rights researchers and journalists from war zones, it has become extremely challenging to extract relevant details about these attacks.
These acts of barbarity which took place in early November in northern Mozambique are just the tip of an iceberg as the gravity of the situation lies far beyond one’s sense of comprehension in terms of the quantum and the brutality associated. Insurgents having links with the Islamic State have become more powerful and influential in 2020- by capturing a port, seizing territories, and planning violent attacks (mostly beheadings) on common people. The success of these militants has become an indication of an alarming situation. While the Islamic State’s power and influence have already been on the rise in the Middle East, it is slowly moving towards Africa with offshoots of ISIS gaining ground in the southern, central, and western parts of the continent. It is an emergency requiring immediate addressal by the international community.
Srinjana Michelle Das | Shrey Madaan