This week, suspected Al-Shabab fighters attacked precious gem-rich areas of Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, closing at least two mining operations and causing hundreds of people to flee villages in Ancuabe and Montepuez districts.
On Thursday, the ruby mining group Gemfields announced it was stopping operations at its Montepuez site after an early morning attack on the nearby mine, Gemrock. Various sources reported that vehicles in the facility were set ablaze and some employees were missing.
The same day, hundreds of people arrived in Montepuez and Pemba cities. Several told Human Rights Watch they fled their villages because the mashababos (a local term for Islamist fighters) had destroyed their homes. They also reported heavy fighting between the armed group and government soldiers who were deployed to the ruby mine after the attack.
“These heartless mashababos are everywhere,” said a resident of Namanhumbire village, in Montepuez district. “They came to our villages and burned everything, even water jerricans.”
Media reports attributed the recent attacks to Al-Shabab or Mashabab, an armed group linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) that for several years, has killed, kidnapped, and raped civilians and pillaged villages across northern Mozambique. Earlier this month, suspected Al-Shabab members set houses on fire in the villages of Chiute, Nguida, Mesa, and Nonia, in Ancuabe district. In Nonia, unidentified armed men beheaded at least one person, reported Cabo Ligado, which monitors political violence in Mozambique.
The recent events show that residents are no longer safe in many areas of Cabo Delgado province, including some districts that until recently had escaped violence. Mozambican authorities should improve security for residents in threatened areas and assist all those displaced by the fighting. In areas with major commercial operations, such as Ancuabe and Montepuez districts, they should work with local companies to provide for better protection and evacuation plans. Authorities should also move swiftly to bring all those responsible for killings and other abuses to account. Government efforts need to meet the expanded threat.