Children as young as 11 have been beheaded in Mozambique’s restive northernmost province of Cabo Delgado, where an escalation in violence that intensified last year has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes, according to the Save the Children charity.
The UK-based aid group said on Tuesday it had spoken to displaced families who described “horrifying scenes” of murder, including mothers whose young sons were killed. In one case, the woman hid, helpless, with her three other children as her 12-year-old was murdered nearby.
“We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him,” the 28-year-old, who Save the Children called Elsa, is quoted as saying.
“We couldn’t do anything because we would be killed too.”
Another mother, a 29-year-old called Amelia by Save the Children, said her son was just 11 when he was killed by armed men.
Resource-rich Cabo Delgado has since 2017 been home to a festering rebellion linked to ISIL (ISIS), which has escalated dramatically in the past year. Throughout 2020, the fighters began regularly engaging the military to capture and hold key towns.
New Release from Save the Children International : Armed groups are beheading children as young as 11 in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado. Heartbreaking testimonies from devastated parents. Read more here: https://t.co/NPl9yMD3Ol pic.twitter.com/PxIhA3b8Dw
— Save the Children in Mozambique (@savechildrenMoz) March 16, 2021
Altogether, almost 2,700 people on all sides have died in the violence, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a consultancy that tracks political violence. Nearly 670,000 people have been displaced, Save the Children said.
The rebels are locally known as al-Shabab and have declared allegiance to ISIL. They are separate from a Somali armed group with a similar name.
Al-Shabab means The Youth in Arabic, and the name is said to reflect that the group receives its support mostly from young unemployed people in the predominantly Muslim region of Cabo Delgado.
The United States last week declared the Mozambique group a foreign “terrorist” organisation over its links to ISIL.
The US embassy in Mozambique on Monday said US special forces will train Mozambican marines for two months. The US government will also provide medical and communications equipment to help Mozambique combat the fighters.
Britain-based Amnesty International found earlier in March that war crimes were being committed by all sides in the conflict, with government forces also responsible for abuses against civilians – a charge the government has denied.