Maputo — The Mozambican police on Tuesday confirmed that unidentified criminals, believed to be islamic fundamentalists, decapitated ten people on Sunday night, in attacks against two villages in Palma district, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
At his weekly press briefing, the spokesperson for the General Command of the police, Inacio Dina, said the attackers used machetes to behead their victims, two of whom were teenage boys aged 15 and 16.
The bodies of the teenagers and three other victims were found in the 25th June village, while five others were murdered in Monjane village. Both villages are in the Olumbi administrative post.
Dina said the police so far have no information about possible injuries from these attacks or whether the islamist group took any prisoners.
He believed the attackers now operate in small groups because the insurgents have been "fragmented" by the operations of the defence and security forces.
"This is a group that has been greatly weakened", Dina claimed. "What we are witnessing is the total despair of this group, which is trying to grab some prominence by committing crimes such as this heinous case".
He added that the police, with the other defence forces stationed in Cabo Delgado, have launched an operation to capture the criminals and bring them to justice.
He said that the situation in the two villages is beginning to return to normal thanks to the strong presence there of units of the defence and security forces.
"Actions for the complete stabilisation of the two villages and of the entire area are under way", he continued. "We are relying on the collaboration of these communities to describe this group and its characteristics. We believe we shall detain them and hold them responsible for their acts".
This is the first time beheadings by islamsts have been reported in Mozambique. But such atrocities have happened elsewhere, and were a hallmark of the self-styled "Islamic State" (ISIS) prior to its recent military defeats in Iraq and Syria.
The police never use the term "islamist" and just refer to the attackers as if they are ordinary criminals. Local people, however, have no doubt that there is a religious motivation behind the atrocities, and call the group "Al-Shabaab". This does not mean they are necessarily linked with the Somali terrorist group of that name, since it is an Arabic term which just means "the youth".
According to research into the origins of islamic fundamentalism in Cabo Delgado, the group initially called itself "Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama", which means "adepts of the prophetic tradition". They claim that the Islam practised by the orthodox mosques in Mozambique is degenerate, and has deviated from the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed.
Residents of Monjane village, interviewed by the independent newssheet "Mediafax", claimed that two more people were decapitated on Tuesday morning on the boundary between Olumbi and the neighbouring district of Mocimboa da Praia.
One resident said that, during the Sunday atrocities in Monjane, "they decapitated a young man, and put a beret from the armed forces on his head. When we took the commander to the place, the first thing he did was take the beret".
This resident clearly did not trust the armed forces (FADM). "It seems that the commander was hiding the fact that Al-Shabaab has military uniforms of the Mozambican forces".
He added that the villagers were alarmed when "the soldiers met with the people and said something that made us very frightened. They said we should buy machetes and sleep with them so that when Al-Shabaab arrives we can fight against them".
The "Mediafax" source thought this displayed "lack of professionalism" on the part of the FADM, since villagers could hardly be expected to fight only with machetes against people who carry firearms.
"They use knives only because they don't want to use bullets", he said. "But they are armed. How are we going to defend ourselves with machetes?"
Palma is the nearest district to the enormous offshore discoveries of natural gas in the Rovuma Basin. A villager told "Mediafax" that "we think all this has to do with the resources they say we have here".