Mozambique's national flag is seen in Maputo November 21, 2005.

© 2005 Reuters

A suspected armed Islamist group attacked two rural villages in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado over the weekend, killing at least 10 people, including children. According to local authorities, the attackers abducted residents from Monjane and Ulumbi village, near the coastal town of Palma, who were found beheaded on Sunday in nearby bush.

This is the fourth attack by alleged armed Islamists since April.

Police confirmed the attack but have provided no details about the incident. Villagers told Human Rights Watch by telephone that military and other security forces were in the area searching for suspects and conducting patrols.

The current wave of violence in the region began in October, when suspected armed Islamists attacked a string of police stations in the district of Mocimboa da Praia, causing two days of lockdown and a massive military response that led to the evacuation of villages.

Since then, the authorities have detained more than 300 people, including religious leaders and foreigners, in both Palma and Mocimboa da Praia districts, which are about 95 kilometers apart. It is not publicly known what if any charges they face.

In January, a suspected armed Islamist group carried out an attack that killed five people, burned dozens of houses, and looted many shops in Ulumbi, according to local authorities and several residents. In April, the media reported at least three similar attacks in the villages of Diaca Velha and Mangwaza in Palma district. At the time, police dismissed the attacks as “criminal cases” that were not like the attacks on police stations in October.

The Mozambican government needs to be more forthcoming about the violence by suspected armed Islamist groups in Cabo Delgado province and the actions it is taking. Greater transparency is needed to minimize government rights abuses and avoid placing civilians at unnecessary risk.