French President Emmanuel Macron has condemned the beheading of more than 50 people by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) linked attackers in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province.

“More than 50 people have been beheaded, women kidnapped, villages looted and then set on fire,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Barbarians hijack a religion of peace to sow terror: Islamist terrorism is an international threat that calls for an international response.”

The militants attacked several villages in the districts of Miudumbe and Macomia killing civilians, abducting women and children and burning down homes.

Bernardino Rafael, the commander-general of Mozambique’s police, said during a media briefing this week that “the houses then went after the population who had fled to the woods and started with their macabre actions”. 

Witnesses told local media that the militants turned a soccer pitch in a village into an “execution ground” where they decapitated and dismembered bodies.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres also condemned the “reported beheading and kidnapping of women and children,” according to his spokesman. He also called on authorities “to conduct an investigation into these incidents, and to hold those responsible to account.”

A mound of ashes is seen in the attacked village of Aldeia da Paz outside Macomia, on August 24, 2019.

MARCO LONGARI/AFP via Getty Images

The beheadings are the latest in a series of gruesome attacks carried out in the gas-rich Cabo Delgado province since 2017 by an armed group that has pledged allegiance to ISIS last year. Little is known about the group who call themselves al-Shabab — although they have no reported links to the organization of the same name operating in Somalia.

Up to 2,000 people have been killed and about 430,000 have been left homeless in the conflict in the mainly-Muslim province. The attacks in the area have given ISIS a foothold in southern Africa — a region that had avoided conflict of this nature in the past.

The group has exploited poverty and unemployment to recruit youth in their fight to establish Islamic rule in the area.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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