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Catholic Priest in Mozambique Fears for Children Radicalization amid Increased Abductions

Fr. Kwiriwi Fonseca estimates that in addition to more than 2,500 people killed and more than 750,000 made homeless since the terrorist attacks began in October 2017 in Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado. Credit: Johan Viljoen

There is fear that young boys kidnapped by Al Shabaab militants in northern Mozambique are being radicalized to fight in the ranks of the militants.

Speaking to Catholic Charity organization, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, Fr. Kwiriwi Fonseca ministering in the Catholic Diocese of Pemba estimated that hundreds of boys and girls have already been abducted in the ongoing violence in the country.

Fr. Fonseca said that there are no official statistics as to the number of children abducted, and explained, “We can speak of hundreds, because if we include all the villages from where people have been abducted, we can undoubtedly state this much.”

According to the Catholic Priest, abducted boys are trained to fight on the side of the militants while girls are forcefully married off to the fighters.

“The terrorists use these children and forcibly train them to fight in their ranks, whereas the girls are raped and forced to become their ‘brides’. In some cases, when they have grown bored with them, these girls are simply thrown out,” Fr. Fonseca tells ACN in a report published on Monday, June 14.

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Fr. Fonseca is responsible for communications in the Diocese of Pemba and maintains contact with scores of victims who have been displaced by the terrorist violence. He is also in constant contact with other Priests and Religious ministering within the Province of Cabo Delgado.

He says in reference to the increased abductions, “I believe the object is radicalization.”

“We are talking of children and young people who were torn from their homes last year, or the year before,” the Priest says, and adds, “It’s a long time to be in contact with evil, and one ends up assimilating this evil. Interacting with them can end up converting them into the worst kind of terrorist.”

Fr. Fonseca tells the Pontifical charity organization that abducted children and young people have been forcibly separated from their families, their villages and the familiar surroundings in which they have always lived.

The Priest expressed concern for the young boys who risk being converted to militants saying they may be wiped out in future military operations.

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“If they (militants) intensify this warfare and international allies, other governments and countries come to try and help Mozambique wipe out the terrorists, what will that mean?” Fr. Fonseca poses, and says, “It means that many innocent children may also die.”

He estimates that besides the abductions, more than 2,500 people have been killed and at least 750,000 others left homeless since the terrorist attacks began in October 2017 in Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado.

The Priest attests that Catholic Nuns are among those who have been abducted and held by militants for days.

Sr. Eliane da Costa, a Brazilian Catholic Nun who was serving in the northern town of Mocímboa da Praia is one of the abducted Nuns.

“Sr. Eliane da Costa was kidnapped in August last year when this port city fell into terrorist hands, and afterwards dozens of people were kidnapped,” ACN reports, adding that another Religious, Sr. Inés Ramos, was also among those that were taken away.

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Both Sisters belong to the same congregation of St. Joseph of Chambéry.

In their captivity, the two Sisters saw the experience of the abducted children.

In the interview with the Catholic charity organization, Fr. Fonseca recalls his conversation with one of the Sisters, saying, “Sister Eliane herself was held for 24 days by the terrorists, in the mountains, and she begged me, Padre Fonseca, please don’t forget the people who have been abducted, above all the children and adolescents, who are being trained to become terrorists.”

The Priest gives an account of another town that witnessed terrorist attacks was Mucojo, an administrative centre on the coast in the district of Macomia. In this attack, a woman only identified as Mina watched as the militants beheaded her husband and her brother and took three of her four children away.

Fr. Fonseca says, in reference to the woman, “Every time she recalls what happened to her and to her family, to her husband, her children and her brother, it reopens a terrible wound that shows no sign of ever healing.”

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The Priest who listened to Mina’s devastating story tells ACN, “Five men suddenly appeared, surprising them, and the local people realized that they were terrorists of Al- Shabaab.”

“The terrorists found Mina at home with her husband, her brother and her four children. They told her, ‘We’re going to take these two boys.’ In the end they took three boys, aged 14, 12 and just 10 years old,” the Priest narrates.

He adds that the militants tied up Mina’s husband and her brother and told her to leave because they were going to kill them.

The mother of four is said to have refused to leave her husband and brother behind. And so, she was forced to watch as they slit the throats of her husband and her brother.

“Not only that, but her own little girl of two or three years old also witnessed the murders,” Fr. Fonseca says, and adds, “The little girl is still in shock to this day and keeps insisting that they return to the town to see her father. She witnessed the entire scene.”

Many other children in northern Mozambique have been subjected to intense traumatizing experiences by witnessing the killing of their parents.

In the Catholic Diocese of Pemba where thousands of displaced people are seeking refuge, Fr. Edegard Silva, a Brazillian Missionary is using puppets to provide psychosocial support to children who have undergone trauma in the country’s Cabo Delgado warrying region.