MOZAMBIQUE: Clergy forced to flee and churches burnt as violence intensifies

Jihadists in Cabo Delgado.
Jihadists in Cabo Delgado.

Fresh attacks by Islamist insurgent groups in Cabo Delgado Province, northern Mozambique have forced priests, religious Sisters and other church workers to flee to cities already overwhelmed with IDPs (internally displaced persons).

In the latest episode of violence in an ongoing armed conflict, terrorists claiming allegiance with Daesh (ISIS) raided three communities in Cabo Delgado on 9th February, killing and kidnapping an unknown number of people and prompting hundreds to flee.

A local missionary who asked not to be named told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “Churches were burned, as were the homes of the population.”

Northern Mozambique has seen a rise in attacks by Islamist militants since the beginning of 2024, as part of a continued insurgency that began in 2017 and had killed more than 5,000.

The terrorists have been targeting military and government buildings, as well as civilian settlements.

More than one million Mozambicans – three percent of the total population – have been displaced because of the conflict, moving from rural areas to overcrowded cities.

A missionary Sister who also wished to remain anonymous told ACN that the terrorists destroyed houses and churches in several villages and are now “spread throughout the southern and central districts” of Cabo Delgado, though “the final goal of the movements or attacks are not clear”.

She added: “The situation is very, very complicated.”

A local priest said: “Many missionaries have also been displaced.

“The priest who was in one of the communities has moved to Pemba, the centre of the diocese, as have the religious Sisters who lived nearby.

“Other missionaries are following suit, to protect themselves, but also to protect the population.”

He explained that Church personnel can protect their communities by leaving, because people tend to prefer being close to priests and religious, which can leave them exposed to attacks.

Most of the time, the insurgents do not discriminate between Muslims and Christians, but there have been attacks on specifically Christian communities – including cases where the jihadists separated people by religion and executed the Christians – according to local sources.

The priest said: “The village that was attacked in the Chiúre region had already been attacked around two years ago, but the religious issue is not only against Catholics.

“They have not limited their attacks to villages with Christian churches.

“As always, they attack absolutely everything, including churches, but also mosques, but they especially target the population and their houses.”

The insurgents often take no notice of the presence of the armed forces of Mozambique and other countries that have been trying unsuccessfully to curb the violence.

At the end of January, terrorists ambushed a military convoy, killing two Mozambican soldiers.

The Catholic Church has been supporting IDPs in Mozambique while also trying to help to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

ACN’s support in Mozambique has included pastoral assistance and counselling for victims of terrorism, vehicles for missionaries and the construction of community centres.


With thanks to Paulo Aido