April 24, 2024

Brighton Journal

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An Argentine priest in Mozambique describes Islamic State's brutality: “When they kill, they look for Catholics first”

An Argentine priest in Mozambique describes Islamic State's brutality: “When they kill, they look for Catholics first”
Father Juan Gabriel Arias takes care of a girl from his mission in Makundze, in the south of the country

There is a social and humanitarian disaster in the north of Mozambique. The appearance of The Islamic State of Mozambique is a terrorist organization The province of Cabo Delgado has already caused around 5 thousand people died and 700 thousand were displaced According to the United Nations, the horror began in 2017.

It's been 24 years since the country touched the soul of an Argentine Catholic priest Father Juan Gabriel Arias. In 2000, he arrived for the first time in the African country of 27 million people, 35% of whom are Catholic and 30% Muslim, although they are the majority in the north. At first he traveled here and there. And Since 2015, it has had a permanent presence at the San Benedicto de Magundze Mission, It is 240 kilometers from the capital Maputo and 35 kilometers from Sai Sai, the capital of Gaza Province.

One of the first things he did was paint his parish blue and white, where he also brought an image of the Virgin of Luzon. With an entrepreneurial spirit, he began to change the reality of his congregation: he builds material houses and water wells, and he builds a maternity hospital. His last venture was the Argentinian company The Future Co. Combined with this, it created a project in a rural area, isolated from the world, which collectively includes water, electricity, connectivity, technology, sports, a school and a hospital. Social. As he explains, “The first one they created was free to show. Then they would sell the program to governments, NGOs, foundations. It's not all: it's been a while now. He sends young people from his community to study at the Argentine Catholic University, Although recently it has become very expensive: each visa costs a thousand dollars. And it covers the Mission's 44 parishes – a distance of 90 kilometers. A white van he got thanks to a donation from Pope Francis. There they call him, in Shangan language, “mofundis joa” or “Mofundis Shtzongu”, meaning “Father of the People”.

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All this you have built up can be threatened in the short term. Although the province in which Arias is located is in the south, About 2000 kilometers from the heart of the conflict, He says he is “sad and scared” about what the future might hold. He tells Infobae about the situation in the north of the country as he recovers from back surgery three weeks ago due to an infection. “It's much worse than what the UN is saying.”

A parish destroyed by Islamic State Mozambique in Mocimboa da Praia, Cabo Delgado (ACN) Province

“It started with great force in 2017. Then the government of Rwanda and other countries close to Mozambique intervened and they backed off a bit. But now it's back,” he says. Argentine priest Cabo Delgado describes the area where the terrorist organization currently operates. “It is the richest part of the country. It contains gas, precious minerals, diamonds, oil. The company Total (with French capital) is working on a gas field there, which they say is the third largest in the world.

A problem for other Mozambicans is the little information they receive about the attacks. “The government is de-escalating the situation as it did in the beginning. They say, 'It's not serious now, it's not a big deal'. But the news is terrible. They don't appear on the local news, but they circulate on the Internet. If something like this happens in Argentina it will be on the screen 24 hours a day. For example, I have a young man from the parish who is fighting with the army there, but they are having a hard time because they are armed forces, with little preparation. “Also, Rwandan forces have withdrawn, and the Union of Sub-Saharan African countries like SADC, especially South Africa, are not as active,” he says. For example, in mid-February, 25 soldiers were killed in an Islamic State attack in the town of Mukojo. Fighting intensified in 2023 after the death of the local leader of the Islamic State, Bonomad Machude Omar.

People displaced from Mozambique flee Cabo Delgado province due to attacks by Islamic State (EPA/TIAGO PETINGA).

Regarding the enemy they face, the priest points out, “They are not ordinary Muslims, with whom we have a wonderful coexistence. They also do not recognize them as their own. There are Islamic fundamentalists Some people say they are from other countries and from Tanzania. And because of the poor economic conditions here, local youths are recruited as soldiers or trafficked.

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When they reach a town, Arias explains, “They do terrible things. When entering a town to kill, they first look for Christians. At once they go to the place where the Catholic Church is and destroy all the temples and the houses of the priests. Many priests left at the bishop's request, so as not to expose the people. Because people don't move around where the priest stays. Foreign priests who stayed in the province were required to sign a letter to the bishop informing them that they were free to stay there. They don't accept ransom if they are kidnapped. Because a few years ago an Italian nun was kidnapped and paid for by the church. As a result, they accused the Church of supporting terrorists The nuns were killed. It's a complicated situation, they're in villages with no security, nothing…” According to Arias, All the churches in the province of Cabo Delgado were destroyed.

So far, he says, the Islamic State of Mozambique (initially called al-Shabaad) has not expressed any clear intention, although some publications have spoken of exterminating Christians so that only Muslims survive. According to Arius, “Theories are there. It is important They seek to create a large Islamic nation with Mozambique and neighboring countries with weak forces. The few times they have released videos they say they are going against the bigots. It is also assumed to be behind There may be drug trafficking That is why they took the islands and restricted the passage of ships.

Currently, the UN is trying to alleviate the situation of the displaced people who are piling up in the neighboring provinces. Efforts are being made. According to the United Nations, They need $400 million Only 5% of that number received pledges, according to Robert Piper, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' special adviser on internally displaced persons, to help displaced people in Mozambique. Arias views the situation with some skepticism: “It's impossible to feed 700,000 people at once.”

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