Suspected Islamic extremists disguised in military uniform gathered a crowd of people in Mozambique’s Nampula province, then separated the Christians from the group and tied their hands before slitting their throats, a Catholic bishop said.

Bishop Alberto Vera Aréjula of Nacala told the Catholic group Aid to the Church in Need this week about the killings that occurred last month as was told to him by one of the Christian survivors who managed to flee.

The survivor told the bishop that the terrorists were dressed in military uniform and they gathered people saying they were there to save them.

“When they were all gathered, they started asking who is Muslim and who is Christian. Those who identified as Christian, they started tying their hands behind their back and they cut their throats,” the bishop was quoted as saying.

The bishop said the killings took place on the night of Sept. 6 and the following day, and that “11 people were murdered in total and they left a trail of destruction and a lot of fear.”

On Sept. 6, an 83-year-old Italian nun, Sister Maria de Coppi, was killed in Chipene city when gunmen stormed a Catholic mission compound and set fire to buildings, including the church and hospital, according to reports.

The attack lasted five hours as the militants ransacked and burned the Diocese of Nacala’s mission church, school, health center, dwellings, library and vehicles, Aid to the Church in Need reported earlier. 

Aréjula said he knew the nun, “and she was the image of a mother, she was really helping everyone with simple love and humility.”

“Sister Maria de Coppi was a nurse who would help malnourished children in a little room where there was milk and flour, and they destroyed that room as well.

According to reports, the gunmen were likely running away from security forces from Mozambique, Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community.

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At least 24 countries have sent troops to support the fight against insurgents in Mozambique, whose army has been accused of being corrupt and having 7,000 “ghost soldiers,” according to the BBC.

Islamic State-affiliated insurgents in northern Mozambique, a Christian-majority country, have internally displaced more than three-quarters of a million people, according to the United Nations.

In the coastal province of Cabo Delgado, Islamic extremists have been exploiting the crisis after a civil war started in 2017. The area is rich with gas, rubies, graphite, gold and other natural resources. Protesters demonstrated at the time against what they say is profits going to an elite in the ruling Frelimo Party, with few jobs for local residents.

“In 2017, jihadist insurgents began in the Cabo-Delgado province, winning over some locals due to the fact that they gave back resources to villagers from the government and killed no one,” the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reported earlier. “This did not last, however, as IS started setting fire to Christian villages, and killing those who lived there.”

Cabo Delgado is a mostly Muslim region where at least 300 Christians have been killed for their faith, according to ICC. There have also been over 100 attacks on churches in the area.

In March 2021, the United States labeled Islamic State-Mozambique as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists.” ISIS-Mozambique is also known as Ansar al-Sunna and known locally as al-Shabaab. The group reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State as early as April 2018 and has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians. 

In November 2020, Islamic State-linked militants beheaded over 50 people, including women and children, and abducted others in weekend raids in the Miudumbe and Macomia districts of the Cabo Delgado province.

Last December, Human Rights Watch revealed that insurgents had enslaved more than 600 women and girls, many of which had been abused and sold as sex slaves for as low as $600.

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