ISIS-linked militants have beheaded more than 50 people and chopped up the bodies of the victims in a brutal attack in northern Mozambique, according to reports.
The militants turned a football pitch into an “execution ground” as they decapitated and chopped up the bodies of villagers in the Cabo Delgado province, state media reports.
Scores of women and children were abducted in Nanjaba village, while more than 50 were killed in a gruesome attack on Muatide village, the BBC reports.
“They burned the houses then went after the population who had fled to the woods and started with their macabre actions,” Bernardino Rafael, commander-general of Mozambique’s police said during a media briefing on Monday, according to Al Jazeera.
Villagers who tried to flee were reportedly taken to a nearby football pitch where they were beheaded and chopped to pieces in the atrocity which lasted from Friday night to Sunday.
Jihadists have wreaked havoc in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province over the past three years, ravaging villages and towns as part of a campaign to establish an Islamist caliphate.
The militants have stepped up their offensive in recent months and violently seized swathes of territory, terrorising citizens in the process.
Counter-terrorism and organised crime expert David Otto told the Daily Star: “State forces and suspected spies have been captured and beheaded by the jihadist group to send a warning message.
“Women have been the subject of targeted kidnapping. Sources say the jihadists keep the women as sex slaves.”
He added: “The complex terrain of deep forest and easy access to the Indian ocean makes the province of Cabo Delgado and the district of Mocimboa da Praia perfect for any armed group to hide.
“They can launch hit and run ambush tactics, escape to the high-sea to neighbouring states and have an ideal logistics route for smuggling of illegal goods, arms and ammunition.”
Last week, suspected militants beheaded at least 20 men and teenagers in a male initiation ceremony in the Muidumbe district.
The dismembered bodies of at least five adults and 15 boys were found.
“Police learnt of the massacre committed by the insurgents through reports of people who found corpses in the woods,” an officer said.
“It was possible to count 20 bodies spread over an area of about 500 metres. These were young people who were at an initiation rite ceremony accompanied by their advisers.”
In April, jihadists shot dead and beheaded more than 50 youths for allegedly refusing to join their ranks.
In March, they occupied the centre of Mocimboa da Praia and set fire to government buildings.
In another town they launched an attack on a police station and raised the ISIS flag.
Luxury islands off the coast of Mozambique, where A-list celebrities spend their holidays, have also been overrun by insurgents linked to Islamic State.
The ISIS insurgents have ordered residents to abandon the islands of Vamizi and Mecungo – where celebrities like Daniel Craig, Bono and Prince Albert of Monaco have holidayed in luxury.
The militants have killed more than 2,000 people in their reign of terror since 2017, while more than 400,000 others have been displaced by the conflict and sought refuge in nearby towns and cities.
Around 10,000 people fled to the provincial capital Pemba via boat over the past week alone, Doctors Without Borders said last Tuesday.
Little is known about Mozambique’s jihadists, who call themselves al-Shabaab – although they have no known links to the group of that name operating in Somalia.
The militants pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State group last year.
Elsewhere, the terror group has slaughtered more than 3,400 people in 36 countries since 2014 – excluding Syria and Iraq where the death toll is far higher.
Its blood-soaked tentacles have taken a grip in some of the world’s most unlikely places including China, New Zealand, Canada and the Maldives.
Over the last four years, the death cult has also made headlines for a series of atrocities in major cities including London, Manchester, Paris Barcelona, Nice, Berlin and Stockholm.
The Pentagon has already warned ISIS is taking over swathes of Africa like it did in Syria and Iraq with “staggeringly brutal” tactics.
According to a report from West Point, the US officer training academy, the group’s expansion and regrouping on the continent shows “Islamic State is far from defeated”.
“ISIS in west Africa is engaging in operations that are increasingly audacious, staggeringly brutal, and worryingly akin to what ISIL, as it was known at the time, was doing early 2014,” it said.
“Its supporters have been engaging in attacks that have exceeded the scale and complexity of those being deployed by their counterparts in Syria and Iraq for at least a year now.”
The report urges military and counter-terrorism policymakers “recognise what is at stake in Africa”.
It warns: “It is paramount that strategic policymakers and military practitioners consider the threat posed by the Islamic State in Africa as a priority, not just a sideshow of the activities of its remnants in Iraq and Syria.
“The Islamic State is not just fighting a low-grade insurgency on the continent; in at least two countries, it has been able to seize and hold territory and subsequently engage in pseudo-state activities.” West Point USA concluded.