Growing violence by Islamic State-affiliated insurgents in the northern parts of Christian-majority Mozambique has internally displaced more than 784,000 people, according to the United Nations.
Announcing the latest statistics on the internal displacement in Southern African country, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement that it is "concerned with the volatile security situation in Cabo Delgado, especially recent attacks in historically safe districts."
Islamic extremists have been exploiting a crisis in the coastal province of Cabo Delgado in the country's northeast. A civil war started in 2017 over the area rich with gas, rubies, graphite, gold and other natural resources. Protesters demonstrated against what they say is profits going to an elite in the ruling Frelimo Party, with few jobs for local residents.
"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."
In March 2021, the U.S. labeled Islamic State-Mozambique as "Specially Designated Global Terrorists." ISIS-Mozambique is also known as Ansar al-Sunna, and known locally as al-Shabaab. The group reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS as early as April 2018 and has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians.
According to the State Department, the group orchestrated a series of large-scale attacks that led to the capture of the strategic Indian Ocean port of Mocimboa da Praia.
At least 24 countries have sent troops to support the fight against insurgents in Mozambique, whose army has been accused of being corrupt and having 7,000 "ghost soldiers," according to the BBC.
The northern province of Cabo Delgado is a mostly Muslim region where at least 300 Christians have been killed for their faith, according to ICC. There have also been over 100 attacks on churches in the area.
Last December, Human Rights Watch revealed that insurgents had enslaved more than 600 women and girls, many of which had been abused and sold as sex slaves for as low as $600.
HRW interviewed 37 people, including former abductees, relatives, security sources and government officials, between August 2019 and October 2021.
A 33-year-old woman stated that local Al-Shabaab fighters held her aunt at gunpoint so that she would identify houses with girls between the ages of 12 and 17 in Mocimboa da Praia. The source counted 203 girls but is unsure if all the girls were abducted.
"Some mothers were begging the fighters to take them instead of their daughters," a 27-year-old man who was interviewed said. "But one of the [militants] said they didn't want old women with children and diseases."
A former abductee from Mocimboa da Praia said he was forced to select the women and girls for sex with fighters when they return from military operations.
"Those [women] who refused were punished with beatings, and no food for days," he said.
In November 2020, ISIS-linked militants beheaded over 50 people, including women and children, and abducted others in weekend raids in the Miudumbe and Macomia districts of the Cabo Delgado province.