It is the story of a drama that is little talked about, but that should instead worry - and a lot - the international community: since 2017, northern Mozambique has been the victim of violent terrorist attacks, with a high number of dead, wounded and displaced, by Ansar al-Sunna, a group of Islamic extremists affiliated with ISIS. The province of Cabo Delgado, on the border with Tanzania, is the only region in Mozambique with a Muslim majority and is also the richest area of natural resources in the country.
In 2011, in fact, large hydrocarbon deposits were discovered and intense onshore and offshore exploration by Western oil companies began. But the region is also home to the world's largest mines of pink sapphires and rubies.
Attacks on poor farming and fishing villages intensified last fall and, in addition to causing hundreds of deaths, are also causing thousands of people to flee, including many women and children: 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are seeking refuge on the outskirts of Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province, and in the neighboring province of Nampula.
The testimonies collected by the local Community of Sant'Egidio, committed to assisting refugees and widespread throughout the country, also because of the history that links the former Portuguese colony to the UN in Trastevere, are chilling: the peace that, on October 4, 1992, put an end to the bloody civil war between the Marxist government of FreLiMo and the ReNaMo guerrillas was negotiated at Sant'Egidio by the founder of the Community Andrea Riccardi and the current archbishop of Bologna Matteo Zuppi. "The militiamen arrived at night, amidst screams and gunfire: we could no longer understand anything," says Felismino, who escaped a massacre and is now a refugee with his family in Namialo, near Nampula.
"We managed to escape and hide in the forest where we remained hidden for a week. A few days after the attack I went back to the village to see what was left. Many had been beheaded." It was worse for Ruth, who lost her husband in the attack in Xitaxi on April 10, and since then has survived thanks to the aid of Sant'Egidio in the camp of Metuge, in Pemba, with 15 thousand other deslocados.
In their eyes the horror of the night in which the jihadists of Ansar al-Sunna "have gathered all the men of the village, separating Muslims from non-Muslims and asking them to join them". Those who refused were killed: 53 men almost all of them young. "My children managed to hide in the latrine but they saw everything that was happening. The militiamen took my husband, beat him and then beheaded him."
Where does such ferocity come from? The story of Ansar al-Sunna is similar to that of other radical Islamic groups that have been sowing terror in Africa for years, such as al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria and Jama'a Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimin' in Mali. "A religious sect that turned into guerrilla warfare." Born in 2014 by some Salafist preachers, Ansar al-Sunna first and foremost targeted moderate Muslim elites, accused of corruption and acquiescence to power, and recruited young Mozambicans disillusioned with the lack of redistribution of revenues from the exploitation of mineral resources.
In early 2020, the Mozambican government launched a full-scale counteroffensive. But in addition to confronting the jihadist threat militarily, the social background that supports Ansar al-Sunna must be dismantled. The torn fabric of Mozambican society must be mended, following the path indicated less than a year ago by Pope Francis during his visit to Mozambique. Meeting in the Pavilion Maxaquene with thousands of young people, Catholics along with Muslims and other religious denominations, Bergoglio invited them to "live the challenge of peace and to celebrate it today together as a family."
"Our differences are necessary," the pope said, "Together, as you stand now, you are the heartbeat of this people, where each plays a fundamental role, in a single creative project, to write a new page of history, a page full of hope, full of peace, full of reconciliation.
an article by Massimiliano Signifredi published in Huffington Post 06.25.2020