Armed groups linked to the Islamic State have accelerated their brutal attacks on civilians in Mozambique. Local media reports said that the latest attacks occurred at a tiny farming village in the northern part of the country, where young members of the group were initiated through a rite of passage that required them to behead villagers.

 U.S.-based crisis monitoring group ACLED, which has been closely watching the exploding insurgency in Mozambique, confirmed the attacks. The group said that at least 20 men and young boys were beheaded in the village of 24 de Marco.

The attack was just one episode in a series of brutal raids in the Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique. Insurgents who have called on the formation of an Islamic state have grown in influence, with its numbers growing due to the extreme poverty and lack of government support in the region.

Over the past weeks, the group has seized territory and captured government infrastructures such as ports and major roadways. The United Nations has estimated that the humanitarian crisis has already displaced more than 350,000 people in the region.

Earlier in the week, UN Secretary General António Guterres said that he remained "shocked" at the reports of the beheadings happening in the country. He added that he has already called on the government of Mozambique to launch an immediate investigation and to respond to the growing insurgency.

"These decapitations, which remind people of Syria and Iraq, scare everyone. It's a grim situation that is worsening quickly because the militants' capacity seems to be growing," Queens University Belfast African history professor, Eric Morier-Genoud, said in a statement.  

Insurgency in the area reportedly began with the formation of the group known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama'a in 2017. In 2019, the group was renamed the Islamic State's Central Africa Province and its influence has grown to include the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The group's boldest move came in August, where it captured the port of Mocimboa da Praia. It has since captured other territories and government infrastructures, killing and beheading anyone that opposed them.

The Human Rights Watch estimates that the group may have beheaded more than 2,000 civilians since it launched its insurrection.

"Initially they had specific targets when they attacked a village - state officials, teachers, nurses, local chiefs. Now it's random," the human rights group said in a report.