Rescuing and serving persecuted Christians since 1995
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Linda Burkle, PhD

With so many catastrophic events occurring throughout the world, it is not surprising that many ongoing humanitarian crises continue without much attention. Currently, the global community is focused, rightfully so, on the horrific earthquakes that have devastated regions of Turkey and Syria. Simultaneously, the Russian war against Ukraine rages on with no apparent end in sight. Meanwhile, China and Iran continue to engage in aggressive actions to accomplish their geopolitical goals.

Behind the headlines, though, atrocities against Christians occur daily with little global outcry. Countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan have been identified as places with extreme persecution. However, in the past few years, other nations are increasingly experiencing attacks against Christians, tragically evident in Mozambique.  

For the first time, Mozambique appeared on the Open Doors World Watch List in 2021, ranking number 45 out of the top fifty worst nations for persecution of Christians. In 2022, Mozambique rose to number 41 on the list [1], and currently, in 2023, it jumped to 32, representing a dramatic increase in violence over the years. [2]

This marked escalation of violence against Christians in Mozambique is worthy of investigation. Much of the violence has been attributed to the ISIS-affiliated Islamist group al-Sunnah wa Jama’ah (ASJ), also known as ISIS-Mozambique (IS-M), which emerged in 2017. ASJ is thought to be responsible for more than 3,100 deaths and the displacement of more than 800,000 people. [3]

According to an article published by the UN in October 2022, over one million people have fled the Cabo Delgado province, where most of the violence is concentrated. A UN official reported, “People have witnessed their loved ones being killed, beheaded, and raped, and their houses and other infrastructure burned to the ground. Men and boys have also been forcibly enrolled in armed groups. Livelihoods have been lost, and education stalled while access to necessities such as food and healthcare has been hampered. Many people have been re-traumatized after being forced to move multiple times to save their lives.” [4] There are hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people living in camps, churches and schools have been burned as villages are attacked, and drug cartels continue to add violence to the ongoing extremism. [5]    

In addition, Mozambique also has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Christian girls are especially vulnerable and forced to convert to Islam. Girls as young as seven have been forced to marry or live with someone as though they are married, leaving them scarred with shame and stigma. [6] It is estimated that 20 percent of girls ages 13 to 17 are impacted. Some programs operated by the UN and/or other humanitarian organizations have been developed to assist them in escaping and becoming self-sufficient. [7]

The violent attacks have spread from Cabo Delgado into the neighboring northern provinces of Nampula and Niassa as well as neighboring Tanzania, where thousands more have fled. The UNHCR is providing humanitarian assistance, but it is woefully inadequate, given the worsening and ongoing violence. As a result, the US Embassy in Tanzania has issued a warning to US citizens to be very cautious in high-risk areas. [8]

On March 10, 2021, the US State Department designated ISIS-Mozambique (ASJ) as a terrorist organization. [9] In addition, on August 6, 2021, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken officially designated IS-M leaders Bonomade Machude Omar and Ibn Omar as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” under Executive Order 13224. This designation freezes all assets and blocks financial transactions with these individuals. [10] While the Mozambican government leaders have blamed “external terrorists” such as al-Shabbab for the violence, they have downplayed the role of IS-M. The IS-M organization has grown in strength and brutality as it has broadened its international ties. They finance their operation with illicit activities, including extortion and kidnapping. [11] Their goal is to establish a regional Islamic caliphate, and their intent is seen in widespread violence. [12]

As a result, in 2021, the international community, including the US, responded by sending soldiers, equipment, and military advisors to assist the weak government forces to fight the insurgents. “These combined forces have succeeded in retaking control of some areas of Cabo Delgado, but it will probably take a long time to quell the insurgency altogether, given its ability to hide in rural areas and continue threatening civilians and government forces in towns along the coast, which is also the base of operations for the budding Mozambican natural-gas industry.” Some terrorism is driven by economic factors, motivated by a desire to control natural resources.

In addition to international military assistance, humanitarian ministries such as Iris Global are on the ground serving those displaced and traumatized. According to Heidi Baker, Co-Founder and President of Iris Global, based in Pema, Mozambique: “What began in 2017 as a seemingly random incident of isolated aggression in a town in northern Mozambique has deteriorated into a protracted and increasingly sophisticated campaign of terror. It has spread throughout the province of Cabo Delgado and threatens more people every day.” [13] Iris Global provides basic physical needs such as food, shelter, and water, plus the transformative love of Jesus. The organization partners with the UN and other relief organizations serving 30,000 people, coordinating with local churches and feeding sites. They have witnessed several pastors, friends, and family brutally murdered and churches burned. While they grieve, the work continues. It is daunting, and the level of trauma is pronounced. Yet, Heidi states: “We are believing for the strength and resources to increase our capacity to reach more people with the tangible love of Jesus.” [14] We pray in agreement.

  [1] https://www.opendoors.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/A3-WWL-MAP-2022-AU.pdf

[2] https://www.opendoors.org/en-US/persecution/countries/mozambique/  

[3] https://www.iiss.org/publications/strategic-comments/2021/the-islamist-insurgency-in- Mozambique

[4] Five years of violence in northern Mozambique has forced nearly a million to flee | UN News

[5] https://www.opendoorsus.org/en-US/persecution/countries/mozambique/

[6] Ibid.

[7] A new, financially independent life for former child brides in Mozambique | UN News

[8] Terrorist Threat on the Rise in Tanzania – International Christian Concern (persecution.org)

[9] https://www.state.gov/foreign-terrorist-organizations/

[10] http://www.state.gov/designations-of-isis-mozambique-jnim-and-al-shabab-leaders/

[11] https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0616#:~:text=ISIS%20branches%20in%20Africa%20rely,support%20from%20the%20ISIS%20hierarchy

[12] https://www.opendoors.org/en-US/persecution/countries/mozambique/   

[13] https://www.irisglobal.org/

[14] Ibid.


Dr. Burkle retired from The Salvation Army in early 2019, where she oversaw an array of social services in a multi-state region. Along with the State Attorney General, Burkle Co-Chaired the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force. Dr. Burkle holds a doctoral degree in international relations. Dr. Burkle has worked with persecuted peoples in a number of countries, and her dissertation focused on religious persecution, specifically regarding Iran, Iraq, Sudan, China, and Burma (Myanmar). Dr. Burkle resides in Omaha, Nebraska. She has three grown children and eight grandchildren.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Christian Concern or any of its affiliates.