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Mocímboa da Praia resident Suleiman Abdel Mane, 42, ran into a group of armed men at the door of the house at dawn when a group attacked the village police stations.
“They had a machete, a knife and a machine gun and one told me not to be afraid because they were only after the police,” he recalls.
Four members of this group arrived at the police station of the Republic of Mozambique (PRM) in Mocímboa early in the morning of Thursday, October 5, dressed in robes and pretending to be handing over a neighbourhood thief they had caught.
When the agent on duty pulled up a chair to start taking down details of the incident, one of the gang pulled out a concealed machete, striking the policeman’s face, while the other three immobilised the rest of the agents in the police station
When other agents out on patrol in the neighbourhoods returned and tried to rescue their colleagues, they faced machine-gun fire.
It was about 1:00 a.m., and the start of a series of clashes in the village and surrounding areas in the northern province of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique which would continue intermittently for 48 hours and would force the mobilisation of reinforcements.
Access to the village was closed by the authorities, institutions and services such as schools and banks stayed closed and the population either fled into the bush or hid in their homes, as did the Suleiman family.
“We went two days without buying food,” he said, during which time he and his wife and two children did as best they could.
According to the official figures, two policemen and 14 attackers died, from the same armed group suspected of killing four more officials in another confrontation on Thursday in Maculo in which seven attackers were also killed.
Only time will tell what the bush hides, but the promise not to harm civilians was broken with the death of a village secretary and with injuries caused to other people, Mocímboa da Praia official Rodrigo Puruque reports.
The sequence of the events was detailed in a speech at the end of a march protesting the violence held on the 12th of this month.
The public say the “bandits” are young Islamists who frequented a mosque under construction in Mocímboa da Praia’s Nanduadue neighbourhood which no-one but them attended because of the radical sermons preached there.
They would “insult the [district] administrator and mayor” and preach a radical form of Islam which overrode state authority, Suleiman recalls.
“People were afraid of even passing by,” he says.
Although the group calls themselves Al-Shabaab, they apparently have no connection with the terrorist group in southern Somalia. The name, an allusion to youth in Arabic, is used by various movements around the world, and the police, who announced they had already made 52 arrests, present them as purely Mozambican.
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“Some of them are children from various neighbourhoods and villages. It is a mishmash of citizens who got into this mess,” the district administrator, himself a Muslim, points out.
“All that makes them resemble Islam is the garment,” he affirms. There is nothing else in common and they chose the robe “to easily join the mosques” and try to recruit more members into their ranks.
“So we have warned Muslims themselves to pay attention, otherwise they will say they are colleagues, when they are people of bad faith and only wear the uniform,” he says.
Saide Bacar, a Muslim leader in Montepuez, southwest of Cabo Delgado, told Lusa that the sect offers money to recruit unschooled Mozambicans who live “poor and hungry”. The police have confirmed that some detainees were given sums of around 2,500 meticais (Eur 35) to join the attack on Mocímboa.
Insurgent notions in Cabo Delgado peaked “in a more identified way” during “a large movement of displaced persons” from areas of Africa further north, passing through Mozambique in 2011, towards South Africa, Puruque says.
The administrator believes that provocateurs have remained in the area since then, taking advantage of the ease of mingling with other migrants, and trying to shape the communities.
Others have been formed since children in Koranic schools (madrassas) abroad, through donors who generally have good references and promise good education to families.
“We have a lot of domestic madrassas teaching the Koran as well. Last year we went from neighbourhood to neighbourhood telling residents not to let their children go abroad” on the promise of scholarships, Puruque say.
“When they arrive, instead of the Koran, they learned how to fight and use weapons. In the end they came back, they are our children and so it was easy to deceive others.”
In his most recent speech, the administrator stated the government position clearly. “No-one should cover their face,” he said, in an allusion to the women’s burqa. That is, any tolerance of radicalism is over.Source: Lusa