, 03 April, 2020 / 2:01 AM
A Bishop in Mozambique has condemned the recent jihadist attack and the actions of the attackers that occurred in the territory within his diocese, describing the episode as a tragedy, a real shame, and a disgrace to the citizens of the Southern African nation.
During the March 23 attack, the jihadists burned public buildings, released prisoners from the local prison, patrolled the streets freely and as a sign of their demonstration of strength, raised the black flag, identifying themselves as members of the Islamic jihadist groups, local sources testified.
“It is a tragedy. What is happening in Mozambique is a disgrace. It is a real shame that our people should be humiliated in this way,” the Bishop of Pemba diocese, Luiz Fernando Lisboa told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International in an interview.
The Bishop was reacting to the March 23 incident when armed jihadists attacked and took control of the port of Mocímboa da Praia, a town of around 20,000 inhabitants within the province of Cabo Delgado, in the north of Mozambique.
This was the first attack on a major town in the country, with previous attacks having been confined to rural areas within the province, a change in approach that has seen security experts warn that jihadists could be preparing to take control of the resource-rich but troubled region.
“They came and went as they pleased,” the Brazilian-born Prelate told ACN’s Paulo Aido in a phone interview and continued, “There was no effective response by the security forces. Many of them fled, because the attackers were more numerous than they were, leaving them free to help themselves to food, supplies, vehicles and military equipment.”
Bishop Lisboa, a member of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ (CP), popularly known as Passionists said that “some of the attackers were dressed in military uniform” and that “the reinforcements that were called for arrived only after the attackers had dispersed.”
Local media reported scenes of “chaos and panic” during the time that Mocímboa was under the control of the attackers, who unfurled black flags, even on major public buildings, identifying themselves with the Islamist jihadist groups.
The incident came at a time when the United Nations (UN) has sounded alarm over the increase and spread of terror attacks in Mozambique.
Northern Mozambique has witnessed growing instability since October 2017 when Islamist jihadists attacked a military base and police station in the coastal town of Mocimboa da Praia, where foreign companies are undertaking a US$ 60 billion gas oil project. Two police officers died in the attack.
Since then, the militants have orchestrated Christmas day arson attacks on villages, ambushed passenger buses, and attacked soldiers fighting the insurgency.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reported that since January 2020, the jihadists have carried out a total of 28 attacks in Cabo Delgado, one of the poorest regions in Mozambique.
On January 23, Islamic State Central Africa Province (IS-CAP) jihadists attacked a military base in the province, killing 22 members of the Mozambique Defense Armed Forces (FADM) and wounding several others.
The three-year crisis has led to the death of 400 people and the displacement of more than 100,000 others, with UNHCR “expanding its presence in the province (Cabo Delgado) to better respond to the growing needs of the displaced population.”
According to Bishop Lisboa, the jihadist attackers “left a message that they would be returning.”
“The people are afraid. If they can attack Mocímboa, which is the largest town in the region, then the people of Palma, Mueda, and Macomia have reason to feel themselves in danger. The people are terrified; they were already frightened before, but now it’s worse,” Bishop Lisboa told ACN International.
“The attacks this week have intensified the feeling of insecurity,” the 64-year-old Prelate added and assured ACN, “Nevertheless, the Catholic Church will continue to stay close to the people, despite the obvious danger of further armed attacks.”
For the first time since it started, the escalating jihadist crisis in Mozambique attracted the attention of the African Union (AU) during the 33rd African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa - Ethiopia, in February 2020, where officials described it as a “totally new threat” that has reached “unprecedented levels.”
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
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