Maputo — Seventy of the 189 people facing charges concerning the terrorist attacks in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado have failed to show up at the court in the provincial capital, Pemba, for their trial, reports the independent daily "O Pais".
The accused include 29 Tanzanians and three Somalis. The rest are Mozambican citizens. Because there are so many accused, and the jails are badly overcrowded, only those accused of the most serious offences were kept in detention before the trial. Seventy were allowed to await trial at home - but they have absconded.
The spokesperson for the Cabo Delgado provincial court, Zacarias Napatima, told reporters the court has decided to try those who have absconded in absentia. He said the court had notified these suspects, but they have disappeared.
"When the time came to call them to the trial, court officials went to the places they had given as their addresses", said Napatima. "But they could not be found. Nobody knows where they have gone".
They will be tried in absentia, and if the court finds them guilty, they will be hunted down and re-arrested.
The trial began on 3 October, and so far the court has questioned 114 of the accused. The trial was interrupted last week because the judge was absent, but it is due to resume on Wednesday. The trial is being held behind closed doors, in violation of the Mozambican constitution which states that trials are public.
The attacks in Cabo Delgado began on 5 October 2017. The group responsible for the raids is believed to call itself Ahlu Sunna Wa-Jama, but it is known colloquially as Al-Shabaab (although it seems to have no direct connection with the Somali terrorist group of that name).
The prosecution case, as reported at the start of the trial is that members of the group were recruited in local mosques by Tanzanian citizens, who promised them large sums of money if they successfully incited people in Cabo Delgado to disrespect and disobey Mozambican state institutions.
The charges they face include first degree murder, use of banned weapons, membership of a criminal association, and instigation of collective disobedience against public order.