By John Newton and Paulo Aido
Jihadists wreaking havoc in the north of Mozambique are determined to seize the whole of Cabo Delgado province, according to Church sources in the country.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Sisters from the Daughters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, based in Cabo Delgado, spoke about the “alarming situation” in the region, saying Islamist group Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah could take control of the entire province.
Sister Joaquina Tarse told ACN: “At first, it seemed that they were only interested in the northern part of the province, but today it is clear that they want to seize control of the entire province because they are already extending their activities to the south of Cabo Delgado.”
Her comments followed the latest attacks on Mocímboa da Praia by the Islamists, which forced many people to flee the port town last weekend ( June 27-28).
After attacks on the coastal town in April, Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of Pemba told ACN of concerns that the extremists’ violence was motivated by a search for natural resources.
The town lies close to an area of the ocean where infrastructure is being put in place to enable gas to be extracted from the seabed.
Sister Joaquina added: “When the jihadists come across the ordinary people, they tell them, ‘If you want to escape, run as far as you can, to the province of Nampula or another province.’
“So they are proposing to conquer the whole of Cabo Delgado.”
The Sisters are based in Cabo Delgado’s provincial capital Pemba, which has received thousands of IDPs from Mocímboa da Praia as a result of the militant attacks.
According to Bishop Lisboa, more than 1,100 people have been killed by the militants and more than 200,000 have been forced to flee their homes.
Sister Joaquina said the Sisters were “providing psychological, religious and moral counseling and material support as well, doing the best we can to welcome the people.”
Sister Graça António Guitate told ACN: “There are many people fleeing. At the moment, we don’t know how many altogether, but there are children, women, and men, many people.
“The government is also helping and we, too, as a diocese are helping these people. Two weeks ago, our Bishop, Bishop Luiz, was in Metuge and delivered some facemasks.
“The diocese is helping, via Caritas, to provide food, and we are looking to see if we can also provide some moral support since these are people who [also] need spiritual accompaniment.
“Some of them have seen their parents, their brothers beheaded…”
Responding to a request from the bishop, ACN is providing subsistence aid for four congregations of Sisters and Mass stipends for priests in Pemba Diocese.