A bishop in Mozambique has spoken out about a spate of devastating attacks by jihadists – including the targeting of churches during Holy Week – which have been attributed to extremist group Islamic State (ISIS).
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of Pemba, in Cabo Delgado region, said that three districts in the north of the country – Mocímboa da Praia, Quissanga and Muidumbe – suffered heavy attacks.
The bishop described how 52 young people in Muidumbe District were massacred on 7th April for refusing to join the extremists.
Talking about the attacks in Muidumbe, Bishop Lisboa said: “Seven small towns or villages were attacked in fact during the days of Holy Week, among others that of Muambula where the Catholic mission of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is situated, in Nangololo.
“They attacked the church and burnt the benches and a statue of Our Lady, made of ebony.
“They also destroyed an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to whom the parish is dedicated.
“Fortunately, they were unable to burn the building itself, only the benches.
“They had already attacked and burnt five or six local chapels, but they also burned some mosques. Although ultimately, it seems, the target is the Christian churches.
“The tragic thing for us is that this mission in Nangololo is almost 100 years old and is the second most important mission in the diocese. So, it was a very tragic attack in what it symbolises.”
Bishop Lisboa said it was unclear who was behind the attacks: “The most recent attacks have apparently been claimed by the Islamic State, but there are still doubts about this.
“Some people are saying that it is a local group which began small and is using the name of Islamic State, while others say that it really is the Islamic State. All we can say is that we don’t know for certain.”
The bishop added that the jihadist attacks may have been prompted by a desire to siege the region’s natural resources.
Bishop Lisboa said that in Mocímboa da Praia, the situation is under control, but said there had been numerous incidents of looting.
After jihadists seized the town in late March, thieves took advantage of residents fleeing, breaking into houses to steal food, clothing and other items.
The bishop described how on 20th April, with tensions running high, people lynched a suspected thief.
He said: “Unfortunately, this whole climate of terror has ended up generating insecurity and increasing crime. The people are so weary and very anxious after what has happened.”