A sizeable force of insurgents attacked and seized the town of Palma in the Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado region earlier this week, leaving dozens of people dead and thousands of others missing. The assault on Palma began in earnest on March 24th after several weeks of siege, and continued into Holy Week.
Members of the militant Islamic ISIS network have claimed responsibility for the attack, which may have left as many as 50,000 people homeless. Fr. António Chamboco told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he is deeply concerned for the lives of his parishioners, about whose whereabouts “almost nothing is known.”
Aid to the Church in Need also received a video reportedly recorded in Palma after the attack, which shows bodies mutilated and decapitated. ACN Project Head for Mozambique Ulrich Kny described the images as “shocking,” and explained that ACN “cannot even share them because they wound human dignity by their brutality.”
The director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute in Durban, South Africa, also described video and still images from the massacre in similar terms. “There are bodies lying everywhere on the streets and on the beaches,” Viljoen told ACI Africa, “countless bodies of innocent civilians,” Viljoen told ACI Africa, CNA’s sister agency, on March 29.
“What’s happening here is no different from what we used to see in Iraq…unfortunately, the world has all this time been silent about it,” he said.
Cabo Delgado has suffered jihadist attacks since October 2017. The United Nations estimates that more than 2,500 have perished in the violence and 670,000 people have been displaced through 2020.
Kny said ACN has helped the local Church with more than £135,000 in emergency aid, including supporting priests and Sisters ministering to internal refugees. “These lives do not seem to count,” Kny said. “It tears my heart out.”
“We wonder how many more deaths there must be,” Kny went on to say, “before the world does something to stop this violence.”
Fr. Chamboco — who was out of town when the jihadists launched their Monday assault — told ACN he felt “pain and sadness” when he learned of the attack. “I have been in Palma for a year and had already grown to love the people, the community there.”
Fr. Chamboco was in contact with members of the Catholic community when the attack began, but eventually was cut off as the attack intensified. “I was in contact with two coordinators from the Catholic community during the first phase [of the attack],” he recounted. “When the [telephone] network was still working, they informed me that there was some shooting, but five minutes later there was no communication.”
The priest located one of the parish coordinators “near the Tanzanian border” in the north, while the other coordinator fled to Nangade, some 100 kilometres southwest of Palma.
“We pray during this Holy Week that Christ, with his suffering, death and resurrection, will bring relief to the people who are suffering at this time,” Fr. Chamboco said. “We need to pray and trust in God to help and alleviate all these problems in Cabo Delgado province.”
Cover image: Mozambique, diocese of Pemba in December 2020: Survivors of Muidumbe massacre (who fled 300 KM on foot to reach camp), photo courtesy of ACN UK.
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