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Mozambique: Resurgence of jihadist attacks force missionaries to flee

After a period of relative calm, following the deployment of the Mozambique Defense Armed Forces (FADM), and then of Southern African Development Community (SADC) forces the Islamic State (Daesh)-driven insurgency has recently resumed in the Mozambican Province of Cabo Delgado.

Since the beginning of 2024  the northern province where the insurgency broke out in 2017, then spreading to neighbouring provinces, has seen a new upsurge of attacks.

Local sources told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that the attacks have also involved Christian communities forcing priests, nuns and other Church workers to flee to cities already overwhelmed by internally displaced people (IDPs).

Mission razed to ashes in Mazese

In the latest incident, the church and offices of Our Lady of Africa mission in Mazeze in the Diocese of Pemba were set ablaze following a terrorist attack on February 12 on the port city, which serves as the province’s capital.

As reported by Aci Africa agency, the Parish priest confirmed the attack in an interview with Radio Pax of the Catholic Archdiocese of Beira, adding that no casualties were recorded. The only thing he managed to save from the fire, he said,  was the Blessed Sacrament and the books of sacraments, baptisms and marriages that he had brought with him.

Houses and churches destroyed on 9 February

ACN  was told that three days earlier, on 9 February, terrorists had also destroyed houses and churches in several villages in the province.

According to local sources the insurgents for the most part don’t discriminate between Muslims and Christians, but there have been attacks on specifically Christian communities – including cases where they separated people by religion and executed Christians.

One million displaced by the conflict

The conflict in Mozambique has claimed over 4,000 lives and according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) an estimated one million people ve been displaced in the region – three per cent of the total population –  moving from rural areas to overcrowded cities. A priest explained to ACN that Church personnel are following them because people feel safer with their priests and religious.

Church’s support

The Catholic Church has been supporting IDPs in Mozambique while also trying to help facilitate a peaceful resolution to the conflict. ACN’s support in Mozambique has included pastoral assistance and counselling for victims of terrorism, vehicles for missionaries and the construction of community centres.

Pope Francis drew attention to the re-emerging crisis in Mozambique during the Angelus on Sunday, February 18: “Let us pray for peace to return to that tormented region,” he said.

Decrease in attacks in 2023

The decrease in the number of attacks by insurgents in North Mozambique in 2023 had led international observers to cautious optimism.

According to the Mozambican army, in mid-December security had been re-established in  90%  of the territory of Cabo Delgado.

However, several independent experts had warned that jihadists, far from being definitively defeated, had only temporarily reduced their attacks, but were ready to strike again as soon as the SADC started withdrawing its contingent. The withdrawal process is set to conclude by July 2025.

Also, in their new attacks the insurgents have adopted a new strategy to befriend the population, as reported by local residents cited by Fides agency: rather than killing civilians, they tax them, preserving their lives and property, while Muslims are encouraged to stay and invited to join them in community prayer on Fridays.

Despite these uncertainties, French TotalEnergies oil company has announced that it is considering resuming the construction of its €20 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in the region which was put on hold in April 2021, after receiving the go-ahead from Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, who has assured that is safe to restart the project.

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