Islamist militants are beheading children as young as 11 in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado, aid agency Save the Children said in a new report.

Armed groups, known locally as al-Shabab (“young people” in Arabic), have been sowing terror for more than three years in the strategic province of Cabo Delgado, which borders Tanzania and is an area that is rich in natural gas.

More than 2,600 people have died in the conflict and more than 670,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.

Save the Children heard from mothers, including one whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

‘They took my eldest son and beheaded him’

She said her 12-year-old was beheaded near to where she was hiding with her other three children.

“That night our village was attacked and houses were burned. When it all started, I was at home with my four children,” the mother said.

“We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him. We couldn’t do anything because we would be killed too.”

Another woman, whose name has also been withheld for protection, said her son had been killed by militants while she and her other three children had been forced to flee.

“After my 11-year-old son was killed, we understood that it was no longer safe to stay in my village,” she said.

‘Violence has to stop’

“We fled to my father’s house in another village, but a few days later the attacks started there too.”

Chance Briggs, Save the Children’s Country Director in Mozambique, said:

“Reports of attacks on children sicken us to our core.

“This violence has to stop, and displaced families need to be supported as they find their bearings and recover from the trauma.”

On Monday, the United States Embassy in Maputo said US Special Operations Forces will train Mozambican marines for two months to fight against the jihadist insurgency in the Cabo Delgado province.

The conflict reached a symbolic turning point at the end of December with attacks carried out for the first time just a few kilometers from a multibillion-euro gas project operated by the French oil and gas company Total.

Attacks have reduced considerably in the last few months, which is attributed to increased military response.

But the NGO Amnesty International on March 2 accused the Mozambican forces and mercenaries of “war crimes” for indiscriminately killing civilians during their struggle against the jihadist group in Cabo Delgado.

The army refuted the accusations.

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