Militant groups affiliated with the Islamic State killed at least 29 Christians and displaced hundreds of residents in northern Mozambique over the last two months, according to reports from an interdenominational aid agency.
In a report published Wednesday, the Pennsylvania-based Barnabas Aid stated that at least 21 Christians were killed by Islamist extremists last month in the conflict-ridden northern Cabo Delgado Province.
According to Barnabas Aid, the Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama terror group, locally known as Al Shabaab (not the Somali-based group with the same name), announced the killing of 20 Christians and the displacement of hundreds more in the coastal province between Oct. 3 and 20.
On Oct. 26, another person was killed as militants set fire to a church building and houses in the Chiure district.
In September, Barnabas Aid released another report stating that militants from the same terror group killed at least eight Christians and set fire to two churches and 120 houses in Cabo Delgado and neighboring Nampula Province in September. Six of the eighth were killed in three attacks over three days in the Nampula province.
The Islamic State released four claims to credit, with three of them referring to the killing of a "Christian" at Nangade, Macomia and Nampula.
"The fourth claim follows the Naheco (Nampula) attack on 08 Sept. Claim refers to 120 houses destroyed and 4 'Christians' killed," tweeted Jasmine Opperman, who produces weekly and monthly insights and forecasts on extremism and political violence in Southern Africa.
Thousands of people have been killed and nearly 1 million have been displaced by violence committed by Islamic extremist groups in northern Mozambique since an insurgency began in 2017. During that time, radicals attacked several villages and took control of a province rich with gas, rubies, graphite, gold and other natural resources.
The Ansar al-Sunna group reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State as early as April 2018.
"People have witnessed their loved ones being killed, beheaded, and raped, and their houses and other infrastructure burned to the ground," United Nations Spokesperson Matthew Saltmarsh told journalists in October.
"Men and boys have also been forcibly enrolled in armed groups. Livelihoods have been lost, and education stalled while access to necessities such as food and healthcare has been hampered. Many people have been re-traumatized after being forced to move multiple times to save their lives."
Local sources told Voice of America that terrorists entered Murrameia village in the district of Namuno on the afternoon of Oct. 29, setting fire to a school and religious buildings. Additionally, the extremists captured and beheaded the village chief and his wife. A third person was killed by gunshot wounds.
In this mostly Muslim region in the otherwise Christian-majority country, Islamic extremists kidnap women and keep them as sex slaves and force boys to become child soldiers, The Washington Post reported last month.
"In 2017, jihadist insurgents began in the Cabo-Delgado province, winning over some locals due to the fact that they gave back resources to villagers from the government and killed no one," the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reported. "This did not last, however, as IS started setting fire to Christian villages, and killing those who lived there."
At least 24 countries have sent troops to support the fight against insurgents in Mozambique. The Mozambique military has been accused of having 7,000 "ghost soldiers," with some soldier payments going to defense officials, according to the BBC.
Mozambique's deposits of natural gas are pretty lucrative as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues to impact gas prices and create security concerns across the continent.
In February, the U.S. government approved nearly $6 billion in loans and risk insurance to help Mozambique's natural gas industry, The Washington Post reports.