On 12 June, an elderly man was beheaded and at least 100 homes burned down in Nathuko village. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

In Mozambique, details have emerged of the recent attacks carried out by a new Islamist militant group, Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamâ, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.

Until recently, little was known about the group known locally as ‘Al-Shabaab’, though there is no evidence to establish connections with the Somali group of the same name.

The group carried out its first attacks in October 2017, targeting police stations in the coastal town of Moćimboa da Praia. Since then, a number of other attacks, including several beheadings, have raised alarms over the emergence of a new jihadist movement in the southern half of Africa – a section of the continent previously relatively untroubled by violent Islamist extremism.

Survivors contacted by Human Rights Watch revealed the scale of the violence, which has claimed 39 lives and displaced more than 1,000 since May.

On 12 June, an elderly man was beheaded and at least 100 homes burned down when a group of six men stormed Nathuko village, in the Macomia district of Cabo Delgado province, just before 2am, residents told HRW. The assailants were carrying machetes and had their faces covered.

On 6 June, a group of men armed with machetes and AK-47 assault rifles reportedly raided the village of Namaluco, in neighbouring Quissanga district, also part of Cabo Delgado. They killed six people and set on fire more than 100 houses. The assailants, who had their faces covered, also spoke Swahili, the main language spoken in the region.

Another attack was reported a day earlier (on 5 June), on the villages of Namaluco and Naunde, both in Quissanga.

One villager in Naunde explained how the attackers caught a community leader: “When he realised they were looking for him, he tried to run away but one of the men chased him, grabbed him by the arm, held the machete, and cut his head off … there in front of everybody.”

Aisha, a woman whose house was reduced to ashes, told HRW that she woke up at about 2 am, after hearing gunshots and people screaming.

“I went outside and saw a group of people with their faces covered,” she said. “Two of them had big guns. The other three had machetes. The ones with machetes also had a small book in their hands. They read loudly Arabic words from the book, before setting the houses on fire.”

Another woman, Anshia, explained how she managed to escape:

“I was running behind my husband and my three older children, when I remembered that I had left the baby in my room. I went back. They had already set my house on fire. One of the men grabbed my hand and slapped me in the face. I managed to escape when I fell on the floor. Then I ran inside the house, took my baby and used the other side of the house to reach the road and run.”