Children are being beheaded by Islamist militants in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province in an insurgency that has killed thousands and forced many more from their homes, a leading aid agency has said.
Save the Children said it had spoken to displaced families who described “horrifying scenes” of murder, including mothers whose young sons as young as 11 were killed.
In one case, one mother told Save the Children she had to watch her 12-year-old son killed in this way close to where she was hiding with her other children.
“That night our village was attacked and houses were burned,” she said.
“When it all started, I was at home with my four 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.”
Another woman said her son had been killed by militants while she and her other three children had been forced to flee.
“After my 11-year-old son was killed, we understood that it was no longer safe to stay in my village,” she said.
“We fled to my father’s house in another village, but a few days later the attacks started there too.”
Militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) group are behind the conflict in the province where more than 2,500 people have been killed and 700,000 have fled their homes since the insurgency began in 2017.
In its report, Save the Children did not specify who was behind the attacks, but it said that displaced people had reported gruesome scenes in the gas-rich northern province which borders Tanzania.
Chance Briggs, Save the Children’s country director in Mozambique, said the reports of attacks on children “sicken us to our core” and described the militants’ actions as “cruel beyond words”..
“Our staffs have been brought to tears when hearing the stories of suffering told by mothers in displacement camps,” Briggs, who is also the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions said.
The insurgents are known locally as al-Shabab, which means The Youth in Arabic. This reflects that it receives its support mostly from young unemployed people in the predominantly Muslim region of Cabo Delgado.
Cabo Delgado is one of the poorest provinces in Mozambique, with high rates of illiteracy and unemployment.
Discoveries of a huge ruby deposit and a giant gas field in 2009-10, raised hopes of jobs and a better life for many local people, but those hopes were soon dashed.
It was alleged that any benefits were being taken by a small elite in the Frelimo party, which has governed Mozambique since independence in 1975.
On Monday, US embassy officials in the capital, Maputo, said American military personnel would spend two months training soldiers, as well as providing “medical and communications equipment”.
The European Union also announced last year that it would provide training to Mozambican forces.
Their intervention follows reports that Mozambique had recruited Russian and South African mercenaries to help fight the militants. However, the Russian mercenaries are reported to have withdrawn from Cabo Delgado after sustaining losses at the hands of the insurgents. (Source: BBC)