Catholic church in Mocímboa da Praia totally destroyed by terrorists

A week after the attacks on the town on 27 and 28 June, the first documented information has come through concerning the destruction wrought by Jihadist groups in Mocímboa da Praia, a port town in the province of Cabo Delgado in the far north of Mozambique, close to the border with Tanzania.

The terrorists, who claim to be members of the Islamic State and who are sowing terror in the region, completely burned down the local Catholic church in the town, according to information given by local sources to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Photographs shown to the charity reveal the total destruction not only of the church but also of other buildings such as the Januário Pedro secondary school, the town’s district hospital and dozens of houses, cars and shops in this, the district capital, which has a population of around 20,000 inhabitants. During the attack thousands of people fled the town.

Alarmed by the news of the most recent attack on Mocímboa, the External Affairs Committee of the European Parliament devoted its final session before closing on Monday 6 July to this issue of terrorist violence in the province of Cabo Delgado, calling together the leaders of the executive arm of the European Union, the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS).

Erminia Notarangelo, the head of section of the EEAS for Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean, spoke of “over 500,000 people affected by this humanitarian tragedy” and confirmed figures of “over a thousand people murdered and 200,000 displaced”. And she warned that “Africa cannot afford to allow itself yet another region under terrorist rule”. Spanish Liberal party EU deputy Javier Nart was still more specific in his warning: “Mozambique must not be allowed to turn into a new Mali.”

Paulo Rangel, Portuguese EU parliamentary deputy and vice president of the Christian Democrat party PPE, also spoke, underlining the fact that “the situation is extremely worrying”, inasmuch as the Cabo Delgado province was confronted with “a radical and opportunist Islamist offensive” and adding that the European Union should consider taking action on this issue by helping the government of Mozambique.

After the meeting, Paulo Rangel spoke with ACN International, emphasising that this meeting had been “a first step towards the European Union once again putting Mozambique at the centre of its humanitarian concerns”, and adding that this meeting should serve to let “the victims in Mozambique know that they are not alone”. The vice president of the PPE spoke of the complexity of the situation in Cabo Delgado and underlined the fact that “this is a different problem from those relating to peace and stability accords”.

In addition, he referred speaking to ACN, to the danger posed by the attacks for the rest of the country and for “neighbouring countries”. He also bewailed the lack of recent information among many politicians about what was happening in this region of Mozambique. “I was fortunate enough to obtain all this information via the foundation ACN International, which is in contact with the local Catholic Church”, he said. Finally, Mr Rangel announced his intention to ask Josep Borrell, the current High Representative of the European Union for external affairs, to arrange “an immediate meeting”.

Up until now, Catholic Bishop Luiz Lisboa of Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado Province, has been one of the few voices to denounce at international level what is happening in this region in the north of the country, an area rich in natural resources, especially natural gas. This last point was emphasised by the Portuguese socialist deputy Isabel Santos during the debate, when she suggested that the terrorist threat was “a question of power and control” with regard to the strategic and economic possibilities of the region.

In an interview with ACN International at the end of April this year, Bishop Lisboa spoke of the urgent necessity for an adequate response at the international level in order to check the Jihadist advance. The wave of violence which began back in October 2017 has worsened in recent months.

The hope that the European Union will concern itself with the situation represents a small glimmer of hope in the midst of the sad and desolate situation in Mozambique, which Bishop Lisboa summarised in these words in his April interview with ACN: “It is important that people should know what is happening and that international organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union take action. The people here have suffered greatly, there are hundreds dead, thousands who have been forced to abandon their homes. In our province we have over 200,000 refugees. It is an injustice that cries out to heaven. The people here have very little, and what little they have they are now losing on account of this war. I appeal for help and solidarity for my people, so that they may once more be able to live in peace, for that is what they desire and deserve.”