Maputo — Ten people, some of them children, were beheaded in a village in northern Mozambique, in a weekend attack blamed on suspected Islamists, local sources said on Tuesday.
The pre-dawn attack on Sunday occurred in Monjane, a village close to the border with Tanzania and not far from Palma, a small town gearing up to be the country’s new natural gas hub in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
"We were informed about this tragedy," Palma’s administrator David Machimbuko told AFP, whose account was also confirmed by a local resident, who blamed Islamists. Mozambique’s state broadcaster also reported on "10 persons decapitated" in the Palma area. Police were expected to give a news conference later on Tuesday.
Cabo Delgado has seen a number of attacks by suspected radical Islamists since October.
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 said, referring to an armed group believed responsible for a deadly October attack on a police station and military post in the town of Mocímboa da Praia.
Two officers died and 14 attackers were killed then in what was believed to be the first jihadist attack on the country. The group has no known link to the Somali jihadist group of the same name.
In the following weeks, at least 300 Muslims, including Tanzanians, were arrested and several mosques forced to close.
Alex Vines, a specialist analyst on Mozambique for the London-based 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 past three months have concluded that the security situation [there] remains fragile and continued attacks probable."
The attackers on Monjane approached the village from a nearby forest. Police were called but "arrived very late and the attackers were already gone. Nothing was stolen," a local source said. "They are becoming more much radical now as they are facing attacks from government," said another villager.
A study published last week by a Mozambican academic João 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 (DRC), Somalia and Kenya.
The increase in attacks in the north of the country presents a huge problem for Mozambique, which holds 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 (LNG).
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.
This month, Mozambique passed an anti-terrorism law that punishes terrorism activity with more than 40 years in jail.