Ten people were beheaded in an attack in northern Mozambique, police said on Tuesday, May 29, as local sources blamed the attack on Islamists.
The pre-dawn attack on Sunday occurred in two small villages close to the border with Tanzania and not far from Palma, a small coastal town gearing up to be Mozambique’s new natural gas hub in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
“There are 10 citizens who have been hideously killed,” Inacio Dina, the national police spokesperson told a news conference in Maputo, adding the attackers used machetes.
Two of those killed were boys aged 15 and 16 years who had set out in the early hours, “hunting mice to eat,” said the police. Villagers had earlier said the fatalities included children.
No arrests have yet been made.
Without naming the group that carried out the beheadings, Dina vowed the police “will hunt and find them and take them to the court as happened with others,” in apparent reference to attacks that occurred elsewhere in Cabo Delgado province in October.
Police reinforcements have been sent to the villages to step up security .
One of the victims of the latest attack was the leader of Monjane village, a local resident said, without giving his name for fear of reprisals.
“They targeted the chief as he had been providing information to the police about the location of al-Shabaab in the forests,” he told AFP.
The Mozambican al-Shabaab, which has no known link to the Somali jihadist group of the same name, is believed to be responsible for a deadly October attack on a police station and military post in the town of Mocimboa da Praia. Two police officers died and 14 attackers were then in what was believed to be the first jihadist attack on the country.
In the following weeks, at least 300 Muslims, including Tanzanians, were arrested and several mosques forced to close.
Alex Vines, a specialist Mozambique analyst for the Chatham House told AFP that the “new attacks are unsurprising and a reminder of the seriousness of the situation.”
“A number of independent assessments of the situation in Cabo Delgado conducted over the last three months have concluded that the security situation (there) remains fragile and continued attacks probable,” he said.
“This attack is a worrying sign of the deterioration of the situation,” said Eric Morier-Genoud, a lecturer in African History at Queen’s University Belfast on the most recent incident. “On the one hand the rate of attacks appears to intensify, on the other hand, the methods seem to be radicalised, with decapitations becoming more and more common.”
A study published last week by a Mozambican academic Joao Pereira said up to 40 members of the radical group “have been trained by movements” that operate in the Great Lakes region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Kenya.
Mozambique is to hold general elections next year and has its eyes set on recently-discovered gas reserves.
Vast gas deposits discovered off the shores of Palma could transform the impoverished country’s economy. Experts predict that Mozambique could become the world’s third-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.
But Morier-Genoud suggested the group won’t pose immediate “significant danger” to the gas project, urging that government engages the northern region from social and religious platforms instead of resorting strictly to a military response.
The country’s north has largely been excluded from the economic growth of the last 20 years, and the region sees itself as a neglected outpost, giving the radical Al-Shabaab-style ideology a receptive audience.
Mozambique this month passed an anti-terrorism law that punishes terrorism activity with more than 40 years in jail.
With reporting from AFP