". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Christian Aviators’ Release from Mozambique Prison Raises Hopes for Full Freedom

March 20, 2023

Since late last year, the international Christian community has been praying and fasting for three missionary aviators who were jailed for many weeks in Mozambique, East Africa. Thankfully, on March 15, Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAP) announced the good news that their pilot, Ryan Koher, had been granted a “provisional” release from prison in Mozambique. Although Koher and his colleagues are still required to remain in Mozambique, they have been released from imprisonment.

The announcement explained:

“Koher, an American pilot, along with two South African men, W.J. du Plessis and Eric Dry, also detained, left prison late on Tuesday afternoon. They have been held for more than four months. They are required to remain in Mozambique and the case is still ongoing. We are continuing to learn more about next steps in the case from our legal counsel.

“Ryan has talked with his wife, Annabel, and his two boys multiple times now and he is doing well. … MAF is grateful to the courts in Mozambique for this decision. Out of respect for the legal process in Mozambique, MAF will make no further comment at this time.”

Koher and his colleagues were arrested on November 2, 2022 in the city of Inhambane, Mozambique. At the time, they were unloading cargo from an MAF flight, making a regular delivery of supplies for a church-affiliated orphanage in the Montepuez District of Cabo Delgado. Despite the fact that MAP had been providing aid to that orphanage for four years, Koher, du Plessis, and Dry were unexpectedly and unexplainably charged by officials with “supporting insurgent activity.”

Although its officials were well off the mark in their misguided arrest, Mozambique is most certainly facing “insurgent activity.” On November 10, 2020, Al Jazeera posted a breathtaking headline: “ISIS-linked attackers behead 50 people in northern Mozambique.” The subhead was equally horrifying: “Witnesses say the assailants herded victims onto a football pitch in the village of Muatide where the killings were carried out.”

The Washington Post reported late last year, “In northern Mozambique, one of the Islamic State’s newest branches is fueling a brutal insurgency that has raged out of sight in small villages and remote forests since late 2017. Women are kidnapped and kept as sex slaves, boys are forced to become child soldiers, beheadings are weapons of terror. The conflict has claimed about 4,000 lives; nearly 1 million people have fled their homes, separating countless families.”

The Post went on to say that the State Department has designated the Islamic State of Mozambique, or ISIS-Mozambique, as a foreign terrorist organization, though the group is believed to have fewer than 500 fighters. The United States also imposed sanctions on the group’s leader, Abu Yasir Hassan. It is unclear, however, whether he is still in charge, or even still alive. Meanwhile:

“The Pentagon’s Africa Command is training Mozambican troops to improve their counterterrorism capabilities. The European Union is spending $89 million to train and equip 11 rapid-reaction units of the Mozambican army, in part because Portuguese and Italian oil companies also operate here alongside Total Energies. The militants ‘are in a key area, so their influence has been quite large,’ the U.S. official said. ‘In order to create terror, you don’t need that many people.’

ISIS-Mozambique has always been small in relative terms, but the weakness of the Mozambican armed forces allowed the group to make rapid gains in recent years, seizing towns and cities, and exacting a terrible toll on communities across the north.”

Several sources agree that the Islamic State group has linked up with Islamic radicals in northern Mozambique, on Africa’s east coast. The terrorists have proudly proclaimed their slaughtering of Christians along with Mozambique’s government troops. Notably, Mozambique’s population is 60% Christian.

The Military Times reports, “Islamic extremism has exploded in Africa despite ongoing efforts by U.S. Africa Command to stifle terrorism on the continent, an August report from the Pentagon revealed. Conducted by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the Pentagon’s premier analysis branch for the region, the report noted a staggering 300 percent increase in militant Islamist violence over the course of the last decade.”

Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita recently told The Washington Post that nearly half of all deaths attributed to the Islamic State group globally have taken place in sub-Saharan Africa, home to several branches of the terror group. “We remain lucid on the state of the ISIS threat, which has not diminished,” he said. He went on to say that sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 48%, or 3,461, of the deaths ascribed to the Islamic State group worldwide in 2021.

It is against this chilling backdrop that the three MAP aviators were arrested by Mozambique’s seemingly ill-informed terrorism experts. Apart from any other unclear motives, the authorities seem overwhelmed with the increasing risk of ISIS-inspired violence. In this case, there appeared to be suspicion that, due to its destination in northern Mozambique, the MAP flight was supporting insurgent activity. Nothing could have been further from the truth. And yet the three men, although released from imprisonment, are still not free to return to their homes and families in South Africa and the United States.

Until they are safely home, prayers should continue for these brave missionaries. Please pray that they’ll soon be safe and sound, embraced by their families and loved ones. Meanwhile, our concern for Africa’s millions of Christian believers should never cease. Many of our brothers and sisters across that increasingly troubled continent are facing the most brutal abuses imaginable. While much of the world continues to turn a blind eye to their distress, our intercessory prayers will provide them with a spiritual lifeline.

Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council and Fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom. She lived in Israel for over ten years, and is the author of "Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner."