Al-Shabaab jihadists leading an insurgency in Cabo Delgado, the northernmost province of Mozambique, are now beheading children as young as 11. Military and humanitarian personnel working in the area reportedly say that they have never seen anything like the brutality that the terrorists have unleashed on the region with people "often hacked to death and mutilated with machetes" as well as "mass Islamic State-style beheadings."
"That night our village was attacked and houses were burned. When it all started, I was at home with my four children," one mother told Save the Children. "We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him. We couldn't do anything because we would be killed too."
"After my 11-year-old son was killed, we understood that it was no longer safe to stay in my village," said another mother, who was forced to flee with her remaining three children. "We fled to my father's house in another village, but a few days later the attacks started there too."
"I saw my daughter trying to run to the boat with two other children. The people from al-Shabab chased them. They took my daughter and many others. Then they set fire to our village," said Fatima Abdul, a 43-year-old woman who fled and is now homeless, living on a beach.
Beheadings have now become a common atrocity in Cabo Delgado, but the practice is not new. In November, jihadists beheaded 20 boys and men in a local village. The jihadists are known as al-Shabaab in the area, but unlike the al-Shabaab that operates in Somalia, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda, the Mozambique group, also known as Ansar al-Sunna, is affiliated with Islamic State (ISIS). It is responsible for killing more than 1,300 civilians and for the displacement of nearly 670,000 people since it began its attacks in the country in October 2017, according to the US State Department. The United States recently designated the group as a global terrorist entity and imposed sanctions on its leader, Abu Yasir Hassan. While Mozambique is a majority Christian country, Cabo Delgado is predominantly Muslim.
Throughout the insurgency, the Mozambique government has not been able to deal with the attacks on its own and has hired private military contractors (PMCs) to help its efforts. These include the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked PMC, reportedly owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the South African Dyck Advisory Group. The Wagner group reportedly left Mozambique after suffering heavy defeats.
In a report released on March 2, Amnesty International said that all involved groups were committing war crimes. "The people of Cabo Delgado are caught between the Mozambican security forces, the private militia fighting alongside the government and the armed opposition group locally known as 'Al-Shabaab' -- none of which respect their right to life, or the rules of war," said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East and Southern Africa. "All three have committed war crimes, causing the deaths of hundreds of civilians. The international community has failed to address this crisis as it has escalated into full-blown armed conflict over the last three years".
The terrorist insurgency threatens not only Mozambique and its people, in addition to neighboring Tanzania, which is fighting jihadists on the border; some analysts estimate that "the insurgency in Mozambique has the potential to destabilise Southern Africa and embolden Islamists throughout the region".