In Mozambique, attacks by ISIS-affiliated jihadists are gaining momentum

The capture of the strategic port of Mocimboa da Praia on Wednesday in Mozambique by Islamist militants is causing concern among neighboring countries. The issue will be central on Monday at the annual summit of the South African Development Community.

Behind closed door conflicts that have torn northern Mozambique since 2017 took a new turn on Wednesday, August 12, when a group of armed men took control of the port of Mocimboa da Praia and directed the Mozambican army. This is the first time that the jihadist uprisings, located in the province of Cabo Delgado, on the border with Tanzania, have managed to capture and maintain such a strategic location.

Concerns have been rising for several months in this South African country and among its neighbors. The jihadist group, known as Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa, or “Chabab” (without direct connection to the Somali shebab), which until then accumulated accidents with police forces and village attacks, promised allegiance to the Islamic State organization in 2019 and gained momentum. “We have seen them in the last 12-18 months develop their abilities, become more aggressive and use techniques that are common in other parts of the world and that are associated. [au groupe] Islamic State, “said General Dagvin Anderson, chief of U.S. special operations in Africa, in early August.

>> To read: in northern Mozambique, facing the terror of an Islamist group

Mozambique’s Foreign Minister Veronica Macamo said on Thursday that the northern country “faces a threat of violent terrorism and extremism which, if not contained, could spread” across Africa. Southern. The South African Development Community (SADC), which brings together 16 countries including Mozambique, Tanzania and South Africa, will meet on Monday 17 August to discuss the critical situation in Mocimboa da Praia. According to Veronica Macamo, Member States must carry out “consultations and coordination of measures to combat terrorism which pose a major threat to our region”.

Similar beginning as Boko Haram

Suspended by the army, very difficult to reach by land and closed to journalists, the Cabo Delgado region, predominantly Muslim and twice the size of Belgium, is the poorest in the country. According to a report from the South African organization Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the jihadist uprising that agitates it, “seems to persist” at the origins of disadvantaged local youths who have followed a radical path of Islam. Similar in its constitution to the beginning of the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, Chabab remains very mysterious, always on the move, their motives and the names of their leaders remain unknown.

The group’s first gun crime dates back to October 5, 2017, when men armed with machetes and rifles stormed police stations and administrative buildings in Mocimboa do Praia, which then numbered about 30,000 residents. Seventeen people, most of them accused, two police officers and a community leader were killed.

The Maputo government, which at first only talked about isolated events and ignored signs of growing radicalization among young people in northern villages, sent the army. Brutal repression, extreme poverty and fierce fighting between jihadists and local residents, organized in self-defense groups, only intensified the uprising, says the ISS. Since then, the conflict has claimed at least 1,500 people and displaced 250,000 people – 10% of Cabo Delgado’s population – according to the project. Armed conflict Location and event data.

The Mozambican authorities indicate that the Islamists were able to finance their attacks with weapons as a result of drug trafficking and the illegal use of mines, which are abundant in the north of the country. explains the BBC. “They now have weapons and vehicles, so they move around easily and can carry out attacks over large areas. And they use the soldier’s uniform. So people are very confused and very scared,” he said earlier this year. the Catholic bishop of the provincial capital Pemba, Luiz Fernando Lisboa.

A potential “African Qatar”

When he visited a refugee camp in Pemba on Friday, August 14, President Felipe Nyusi promised to “do everything possible to restore peace and stability” in Mocimboa da Praia. Efforts are high for the country, as the Cabo Delgado region contains large amounts of gas, which could eventually turn one of the poorest countries in the world into a massive exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), the image of an “African Qatar”.

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The French group Total is leading a consortium on the Afungi Peninsula, 60 km north of Mocimboa da Praia, the construction of two LNG extraction plants. With another project led by the American ExxoMobil, almost 60 billion dollars (52 million euros) must be invested in the region, but the companies depend on the port of Mocimboa da Praia for deliveries. According to Felipe Nyusi, the two projects are not jeopardized by the fighting.

But Wednesday’s attack, according to Adriano Nuvunga, head of the Center for Democracy and Development in Mozambique, interviewed by AFP, shows that the uprising “is gaining ground and is” a setback “for the development of the project. The Mozambican army, very present in Cabo Delgado but poorly equipped, is fighting to drive back the Islamist fighters, including with the support of Russian and South African mercenaries.

SADC must “quickly help Mozambique prevent violent uprisings”, according to a note from the ISS, for which Monday’s summit is “a crucial opportunity to take decisive action that can help end the crisis”. Otherwise, according to the NGO, it could reach proportions similar to the security crises in the Sahel, in the Lake Chad basin and in the Horn of Africa. Among other measures, the institution is expected to help Mozambique “develop a long-term strategy to deal with the roots of the violence, including confiscation of land for the mining industry, lack of employment, illiteracy, sub-development and lack of basic services,” ISS said.