Discover more from Daniele Garofalo Monitoring
Mozambique and the expansion of Islamist terrorism
Over the past year, security risks related to Islamist terrorism in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province have increased exponentially. The northern areas of the country, the poorest in Mozambique despite the presence of important mineral and hydrocarbon deposits, are affected by an Islamist insurgency, which in the early years was a strictly local issue, but with the prolongation of this and the rise of the Islamic State in Central Africa (ISCAP), it has transformed and consolidated as a regional threat, also due to the growing presence of foreign Islamist terrorists.
The jihadist propaganda message has found popularity among the majority of the population due to numerous factors related to social and economic problems, unemployment, exploitation by foreign companies, abuse and marginalisation, factors that have led many people, young people in particular, to support extremist Islamist groups. Moreover, the province of Cabo Delgado has for years been the focus of considerable investment in infrastructure for the extraction of oil, natural gas, pink sapphires, rubies and gems. However, the local population is excluded from job opportunities to the detriment of foreign workers, and in many areas, the land is being expropriated without adequate compensation, with violence, robbery and abuse by the private security forces of the various companies, with the complicity of the Mozambican police, creating demoralisation and social stress among the local population. Many people are being raped or killed, and farming and fishing communities have been displaced.
Ethnic rivalries also play a key role, as most of the insurgents come from the Kimwani ethnic group, marginalised by the Makonde, the ethnic group of the political elite.
The jihadist group operating in Mozambique, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, is Ansar al-Sunna Wa-Jamma (ASWJ), an ultra-conservative Wahabi religious organisation (early members were followers of Aboud Rogo Mohammed, a radical Kenyan cleric), which was militarized from 2015 to 2017. ASWJ’s first militants, the group’s leaders, were radicalised to jihadism and trained in Tanzania, Sudan and Somalia (by former Mozambican policemen and border guards fired by the government or by trainers from the Somali jihadist group al-Shabaab). The group initially limited itself to insurgent operations against private and government security forces, without a proactive propaganda or political agenda. The group gained prominence in October 2017, when 30 armed militants attacked a police unit in Mocimboa da Praia. The group’s leadership pursues goals centred on the creation of an Islamic State governed by Shari’a, the rejection of the government’s secular education system, is anti-Christian and anti-Western, prevents people from attending hospitals or schools it considers un-Islamic and aims to take control of the Cabo Delgado region in the north of the country, exploiting the delicate situation of economic crisis to recruit men and expand its control (recruitment is mainly through family ties and radical mosques. The group uses videos to radicalise poor, marginalised and unemployed young people). The group operates with small, hard-to-detect cells of 10 to 30 militants, use guerrilla tactics and operates relatively autonomously. The group controls mosques or has built its own, where its members preach anti-state ideology and a radical interpretation of Islam. Estimates of the number of militants in the group vary between 450 and 1,500. ASWJ finances its operations with proceeds from the illegal trade in wood, rubies, charcoal, and ivory, as well as exploiting the illicit trafficking of heroin from Pakistan to Tanzania, Europe, and South Africa. The group is also involved in the illegal trade of ivory and smuggled goods. Additional funds come from sympathisers, who donate via electronic payments (using income from smuggling, religious networks and human traffickers, ASWJ sends young men to Tanzania, Kenya and Somalia for military training).
Ansar al-Sunna began collaborating with the Islamic State in Central Africa Province (ISCAP) in the summer of 2019. The group’s militants are also likely to have received support and military training from militants of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel Islamist militia that has been fighting both Congolese and Ugandan governments for two decades. The ADF in recent years has come very close to the ideology of the Islamic State and a component of the group has even changed its name to Madinat al Tawhid wal Muwahedeen [MTM], “The city of monotheism and holy warriors”. Between March and May 2019, they began collaborating with the Islamic State, which subsequently proclaimed the birth of the Central African Wilayah. In July 2019, MTM replaced its logo with that of IS).
The Islamic State’s propaganda and media organs, Amaq News Agency, Nashir News Agency and Al-Naba newsletter declared in April 2019 that the Islamic State’s “Central African province” had carried out attacks in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, officially announcing the birth of the Central African province (ISCAP). In June 2019, it claimed the first attacks in Mozambique and confirmed its operations in the country in a lengthy editorial on 3 June 2020 in al-Naba. ISCAP is operational, with two branches, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mozambique, and has 2,000 local and foreign militants from Congo, Mozambique, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Tanzania. ISCAP is formally directed by the Maktab Al-Karrar Office (the office responsible for the administration of IS’s far-flung provinces) based in Somalia.
The allegiance of the Mozambican Islamists of Ansar al-Sunna to Islamic State is as yet unproven, as there has been no official oath or announcement of al-Sunna’s leadership to IS, so it appears more likely that only one or more factions of ASWJ have sworn allegiance to IS.
The group’s activities are constantly shared on pro-ISIS Telegram, Rocket Chat, Hoop and Tam Tam channels. Ansar al-Sunna’s operations are often publicized by official IS channels such as Amaq News Agency, Nashir News Agency and the Al-Naba newsletter. It is therefore likely that ISCAP headquarters and al-Sunna will cooperate materially.
Between April 2020 and February 2021, both Ansar al-Sunna’s Mozambican guerrillas and ISCAP, increased their operations with more and more intensified, sophisticated and targeted attacks, continuous looting and qualitatively and substantively stronger propaganda.
In the short to medium term, Ansar al-Sunna and ISCAP will not be able to control large cities, as they cannot do so, but they will be able to control numerous villages and vast areas of the Cabo Delgado province. However, their objective was achieved, obtaining a significant victory in terms of propaganda and funding, increased by the destabilisation of the area.
The increasingly significant emergence of Ansar al-Sunna and the steady expansion of ISCAP is an indication that the influence of Islamist terrorism is now widespread in East Africa, just as it is clear that the response adopted by the Mozambican government has failed. The involvement of international actors is essential to avoid a worsening of the current situation. It is also crucial that Mozambique adopts a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy to counter jihadist violence, as it does not have a national action plan. Local authorities lack the right training, equipment and capacity to prevent and counter the spread of radicalization. Increased collaboration and cooperation between Mozambican security forces and global intelligence agencies is also of considerable importance. It is also necessary to strengthen border security, particularly the border with Tanzania, which is the main recruitment and transit area for terrorist and criminal organizations. In terms of countering the financing of terrorism, it is crucial that Mozambique, regularly engage in efforts to counter the financing of jihadist groups operating in the North, by exchanging and providing information on confiscation and money laundering.
Also of considerable importance are interventions such as: instructing the national police, the army and the various private sector security forces present to carry out their responsibilities in a manner consistent with international human rights standards; offering an amnesty and reintegration programme for young people who have joined jihadist groups, developing appropriate rehabilitation programmes, vocational training and job opportunities; overcoming ethnic and religious differences, and legislating to do so; combating and legislating against the frequent abuses by multinationals operating in the country; planning major investments by the central government and the multinationals in community development, health, agriculture, fishing, schooling, and helping the population into new job opportunities. Without the interventions just described, in the medium-long term, the risk is the definitive expansion and affirmation of the Jihadist groups in the North of the Country, which could, therefore, occupy the area permanently and effectively, causing serious security problems to the multinationals to present there, to the Central Government and the neighbouring States.
Daniele Garofalo is a researcher and analyst on Jihadist terrorism and an expert in monitoring Jihadist media channels.
Support my research, analysis and monitoring with a donation here PayPal.Me/DanieleGarofalo88