Abstract: In early August 2020, fighters of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al Jamma’ah (ASWJ) captured the town and port of Mocimboa da Praia in Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado. The ASWJ’s ability to drive out government forces and hold the town marked a step-change in the group’s capabilities and ambitions. The expanding insurgency has attracted attention, support, and promotion from the Islamic State, which looks to Africa as promising territory. In June 2019, the ASWJ was formally adopted by the Islamic State as the Mozambican wing of its Central Africa Province. A unique combination of circumstances has enabled an exponential growth in the insurgency: a traditional Islamic leadership out of touch with younger, radicalized Muslims; widespread economic and social deprivation in northern Mozambique amid a wealth of natural resources, compounded by ethnic cleavages; corruption and ineffective governance; and security forces that are poorly equipped, trained, and led. With efforts to counter the jihadis by the Mozambique government and outside actors so far making little headway, the insurgency now directly threatens the development of Mozambique as a major exporter of liquefied natural gas and thereby its economic future.

For the first time, a jihadi group in Mozambique has seized and held a significant town, after an assault that demonstrated growing sophistication, tactical awareness, and firepower. Fighters of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al Jamma’ah (ASWJ)a captured Mocimboa da Praia in Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado in early August 2020; by mid-October 2020, government forces had still not dislodged them.

The occupation of Mocimboa is a step-change in the ASWJ’s capabilities and ambitions since the group’s first attack on the town three years ago. This article explores the origins and evolution of the insurgency and seeks to demonstrate that it has benefited from a unique combination of circumstances: a traditional Islamic leadership out of touch with younger, radicalized Muslims; widespread economic and social deprivation in northern Mozambique amid a wealth of natural resources, compounded by ethnic cleavages; corruption and ineffective governance; and security forces that are poorly equipped, trained, and led.

These factors have not only enabled the exponential growth of the insurgency but attracted attention, support, and promotion from the Islamic State over the last year as it looks to Africa as promising territory. The insurgency in Mozambique was officially co-opted as part of the Islamic State’s Central Africa province (ISCAP) in June 2019.

Critically, the expansion of the insurgency now directly threatens the development of Mozambique as a major exporter of liquefied natural gas and thereby its economic future.

The analysis draws from a range of sources, including regional experts who have followed the insurgency since its inception, academics who have studied the evolution of jihadism and different strands of Islamic thought in the region, and human rights organizations and analysts in Mozambique. Some have preferred to speak on background so as to be more candid. The article also draws on a range of research papers published in the last few years and the author’s own experience analyzing jihadi groups and the environments in which they flourish, including reporting in Syria and Iraq.

Drawing on these sources, the article explores the ethnic, economic, and social cleavages that have fed the insurgency and examines the evidence about connections between ASWJ and the Islamic State, as well as the involvement of foreign jihadis in the conflict. It then examines the response of the Mozambican authorities, both military and civil. It also shows that the introduction of foreign military contractors to augment the government’s counterterrorism effort has achieved little and assesses the prospects of further international and regional intervention.

The author argues that the factors driving the insurgency in Cabo Delgado are deep-seated but substantially the outgrowth of inadequate and misguided government strategy in terms of economic development, political engagement, and security policy. While there are some indications that the authorities may be rethinking what has been a blunt security-led approach in Cabo Delgado, the insurgency is well-entrenched. Without a broader initiative that offers civilians both protection and opportunity, there is little prospect of defeating an insurgency that benefits from thickly forested terrain, unpoliced borders, and the potential for revenues from precious minerals and smuggling.

A note on terminology: although the Islamic State adopted ASWJ in June 2019 as the Mozambican wing of its Central Africa Province (IS-CAP), the ties between Islamic State Central and the group remain nebulous. For this reason, for the most part, this article refers to the group as ASWJ rather than IS-CAP.1

The Current Situation
In early August 2020, ASWJ fighters began their third attack of the year on the port of Mocimboa da Praia. The difference was that on this occasion, they not only drove out Marines of the Mozambican Armed Forces who were guarding the port but remained in control of the town for many weeks. At time of publication, government forces had still not regained control of Mocimboa.

ASWJ is now well entrenched in at least one-third of Cabo Delgado, which is the size of Austria, and the government seems bereft of a strategy—either military or socio-economic—to wrest back the lost territory.

The widening insurgency has created a humanitarian crisis in northern Mozambique. The World Food Programme estimates that at least 300,000 people in Cabo Delgado are now entirely reliant on humanitarian assistance after fleeing their homes.2 At least 1,500 have been killed in the last three years, about two-thirds of them civilians. Much of the rural interior of Cabo Delgado has been depopulated.3

Cabo Delgado has a majority Muslim population (approximately 55 percent) in a largely Catholic country. It is some 2,700 kilometers from the capital, Maputo, in the south and is the poorest province in the country, with high rates of illiteracy and child poverty—only 0.3 percent of students receive post-secondary education.4 It has a history of neglect by the central government and was battered by a devastating cyclone in April 2019 as well as repeated flooding in recent years.

However, Cabo Delgado is much more than a rural backwater. It is at the heart of international exploration for extensive natural gas reserves that lie just off Mozambique’s coast. French company Total SA and Italy’s Eni SpA are building infrastructure on the Afungi Peninsula to exploit the reserves, most of which lie offshore. The exploitation of these reserves has the potential to transform Mozambique’s stagnant economy, but it may yet be delayed or threatened by the widening reach of the insurgency.

Origins and Evolution of Insurgency
The insurgency began in October 2017 when local Muslim youth demanding the introduction of sharia law in the port town of Mocimboa da Praia attacked police stations. Known at the time as al-Shabaab (literally the youth and not to be confused with the Somali jihadi group of the same name), the insurgents only later began to refer to themselves as Ahl al-Sunnah wa al Jamma’ah (ASWJ).b For several years before the outbreak of violence, disaffected young Muslims in Mocimboa da Praia had been at loggerheads with the Islamic establishment in northern Mozambique, as represented by the Islamic Council of Mozambique. Disputes over dress, the availability of alcohol, and rejection of secular education were manifestations of this cleavage.5 In the town of Pangane, an al-Shabaab leader tried to impose a ban on alcohol in 2015; one policeman was killed in ensuing clashes.6 Fundamentally, the group resisted any relationship between the ‘Muslim community’ and the state, stressing that only ‘Islamic’ law applied.7

Al-Shabaab exploited decades of neglect of northern Mozambique by the central government. Mozambique’s liberation movement from Portuguese rule, FRELIMO, began its struggle in the north in the 1970s, but it became plagued by internal rivalries, frequently between its northern contingents and those known as the sulistas, the southerners who became prominent in the movement after independence.8

In 2005, according to one study, a veteran FRELIMO commander in Cabo Delgado warned that the movement “was born here and could end here” if the material benefits of independence were only enjoyed by “southerners.”9 This regional neglect was overlaid by tensions between the Christian Makonde, a northern community that was prominent in FRELIMO’s liberation struggle, and the Muslim Mwani people.

The Mwani, a coastal people, who dominate a 200-kilometer stretch of the coast in northern Mozambique and parts of the Tanzanian coast further north, tended to support FRELIMO’s adversary RENAMO during the fight for independence.c There have also been bitter internal divisions among the Makonde themselves,10 largely along economic lines, which has made the task of extending state authority in the north still more difficult.

The town of Mocimboa has long been divided into Makonde and Mwani enclaves.11 In 2005, riots erupted in the town when RENAMO rejected the results of the national election; sectarian looting and killing ensued.12 Professor Yussuf Adam, who has long studied Cabo Delgado, says that “factors such as corruption, nepotism, the lack of democracy, freedom of expression, and a lack of rigorous justice further marginalized groups in the northern regions.”13

Wealth in Cabo Delgado, which boasts rich mineral and forestry resources, has been concentrated among a Makonde elite that is well connected to the central government. Local people have also been expropriated or suffered abuses at the hands of international mining companies exploiting the region for rubies and sapphires.d

One historian of the conflict, Eric Morier-Genoud, says the al-Shabaab insurgents built on the emergence of a sect around 2007 that demanded sharia rule and rejected the quietist outlook of the Islamic Council of Mozambique, which cooperated with the government.14 It is also worth noting that the Council has historically been seen as a creature of Wahabis from southern Mozambique, unrepresentative of the north.15 According to some accounts, some of the younger men drawn to the sect had been to Saudi Arabia and Sudan on scholarships and returned infused with fundamentalist thinking.e Morier-Genoud notes that “the national Islamic conference that took place in the northern city of Nampula in 2016 concluded that the sect was then prevalent in four districts of Cabo Delgado province,” including Mocimboa da Praia.16 Al-Shabaab recruited young Mozambican men and teenagers from a mosque it controlled in Mocimboa da Praia and began demanding that the Muslim population use sharia rather than secular law.17

Morier-Genoud believes that al-Shabaab moved toward resisting the Islamic establishment and the government in 2016-2017 in response to “the state detaining many Al-Shabaab men in Quissanga and Macomia districts for calling on the population not to respect the secular state,”18 a far more dangerous demand than disputes over dress or alcohol. A review of local media in this period suggests growing agitation in areas where al-Shabaab subsequently became strong, and continuing waves of arrests.19 There were also instances of retaliation against al-Shabaab in some communities. Several of the group’s mosques were destroyed.20

By the middle of 2017, there was growing unrest in Cabo Delgado pitting Al-Shabaab against local communities, the Islamic establishment and civil authorities. Morier-Genoud assesses that the group was by then tilting toward achieving “their goal of living in a sharia-based political order from withdrawing from society to attacking the state, in order to change the way society operated. They thus shifted from Islamist sectarianism to armed jihadism.”21

Representatives of the Islamic Council of Mozambique said they had warned authorities of this growing radicalization, which manifested itself in October 2017 with the first attacks on security forces in Mocimboa.22 But they also underestimated its potential.23 Throughout 2018 and 2019, al-Shabaab’s operations became more brutal and numerous, often targeting undefended villages in the thickly forested province. In September 2018, for example, militants reportedly killed 12 people and destroyed 55 homes in the village of Piqueue,24 their second attack on the village that year.

According to one analysis, which is consistent with other studies, the number of attacks carried out by the insurgents rose from three in 2017 to 19 the following year and 34 in 2019.25 Data accumulated by The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), which relies on a variety of sources, suggests that in the first quarter of 2020, ASWJ was involved in about 25 attacks or clashes per month in Cabo Delgado. That number rose to an average of about 45 in the second quarter.26 The United Nations’ monitoring group on the Islamic State and al-Qa`ida reported that “in early 2020, ISCAP [Islamic State Central Africa Province] activities in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, gained momentum as the group launched complex attacks on several locations.”27

The insurgency also spread geographically in 2019 and 2020. Its earlier attacks were confined to the far northeastern coastal districts but operations gradually spread south toward the regional capital Pemba, a significant port.28 By February 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the violence affected nine of Cabo Delgado’s 16 districts.29 Some analysts believe that this expansion, given the size of Cabo Delgado, suggests the group has three regional commands.30

There are multiple accounts of horrendous brutality by the insurgents. UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said in February 2020: “Those fleeing speak of killings, maiming, and torture, burned homes, destroyed crops and shops. We have reports of beheadings, kidnappings and disappearances of women and children.”31

In March 2020, at least six members of the security forces and an unknown number of civilians were murdered at Quissanga.32 The following month, 52 young men were reported killed while resisting recruitment in the district of Muidumbe.33 One military contractor hired by the Mozambique government, Lionel Dyck—a former officer in the Zimbabwean army—said that “the massacre that followed the attack on the Quissanga police post involved the mutilation of bodies [and] the cutting of limbs.”34

In May 2020, staff of Médecins Sans Frontières fled the village of Macomia in the midst of an attack, along with hundreds of civilians who had already been displaced by the 2019 cyclone.35 Insurgents killed at least 20 people in a raid on the village of Mungue on July 15, 2020, and nine in attacks in the districts of Macomia and Mocimboa da Praia at the end of the month.36 A clinic and maternity ward that had been rebuilt after the cyclone was again destroyed.37

In a tactic reminiscent of Boko Haram in Nigeria, the insurgents also began wholesale abductions of women and girls, including what local sources described as several truckloads in Mocimboa da Praia town at the end of June 2020.38 There are also indications that Christian populations in some places were targeted, with a number of churches burned down.39

Government forces appear to have reasserted control over part of the Quissanga district since April 2020; some displaced civilians have returned to their homes.40 Whether that is because the insurgents withdrew of their own accord or were pushed out is unclear.41 But the area is certainly not at peace, with a number of attacks against civilians reported in September 2020.

Video and photographs released by the Islamic State on behalf of its Central Africa Province (IS-CAP) this year show the insurgents are now substantially better armed, having seized AK-47s, machine guns, and rocket propelled grenades from government troops. The French scholar Matteo Puxton has analyzed videos and photographs released by the Islamic State of ASWJ’s operations. As of mid-August 2020, he tallied the capture by the group of well over 100 assault rifles, as well as heavy machine guns, several mortars, and more than 20 RPG-7s.42

Several analysts believe ASWJ has sourced many more weapons from outside Mozambique given the reach of its operations. This seems highly likely given the expanding reach of the insurgency, the complexity of some of its operations against the security forces, and its access to smuggling routes and a long stretch of north Mozambique’s coastline. Its fighters also appear better trained and capable of close coordination.43 This was especially evident during the multi-stage operation to seize Mocimboa in August 2020.

Emilia Columbo, a senior associate in the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), says ASWJ has stepped up attacks on district capitals, military compounds, and patrols.44 The hauls of military equipment displayed in propaganda releases, the geographic expansion of the insurgency, and the government’s inability to reassert control over key roads and districts are all evidence that ASWJ’s capabilities have improved. Nor has it made the mistake of overreach by committing resources to unsustainable operations. Tactically, it has clearly become more astute.

ASWJ has considerable opportunities to sustain its operations financially. Thus far, its revenue streams have been difficult to discern. Banks have been targets in some of its raids.45 There is anecdotal evidence that ASWJ is taking advantage of the coastline it now controls, which is dotted with islands, to derive revenues from smuggling or by taxing illicit activities.46

Given the natural wealth of the region (gems, timber, wildlife) and Cabo Delgado’s history as a heroin-trafficking route,47 there may be plenty of opportunities. A report in 2018 concluded that “wildlife and human trafficking, illegal timber felling, and gemstone smuggling were flourishing, facilitated by corruption and an attitude of indifference.”48 Based on fieldwork in Cabo Delgado, it said vehicles crossing from Tanzania were rarely stopped and searched. It also suggested Mocimboa had become a hub for weapons smuggling.

Analysts believe that through whatever means, the insurgents now have a substantial cash flow to sustain their operations and have taken control of food supplies in some areas, giving them additional leverage over the civilian population.49

ASWJ Focus on Mocimboa da Praia
One thrust of the insurgents’ attacks has been against the port of Mocimboa da Praia, home to many of its members. Mocimboa is used to import supplies for offshore gas fields being developed and onshore logistics facilities.

On March 23, 2020, ASWJ targeted army barracks, municipal administration buildings, banks, and gas stations.50 Three days before the attack, a sizable contingent of government troops had been withdrawn from Mocimboa da Praia to Mueda inland.51

The next attack came in June 2020 and forced many civilians to flee by sea to Pemba farther south.52 The local mayor said in a television interview: “Everything has stopped: no government infrastructure is working, everything has been vandalised.”53

The assault in August 2020 was the insurgents’ most complex yet, forcing the withdrawal of Mozambican troops. It included the clearing of neighboring villages by the jihadis, an ambush of troops on their way to reinforce the port in which some 50 Mozambique army recruits were reported killed, and coordinated attacks on military positions in the port’s vicinity. Several access roads to the port were cut off. By August 11, 2020, ASWJ fighters occupied the port area.54

A witness told Human Rights Watch of “total destruction” and “bodies of ordinary people and soldiers on the streets.”55 Mozambique’s Defense Minister Jaime Neto said the insurgents had “infiltrated several neighbourhoods, dressed as civilians and benefiting from complicity [inside the town], attacking the town from inside, causing destruction, looting and murdering defenceless citizens.”56 Neto also said that the insurgents had fired on naval vessels trying to reinforce Mocimboa.57 Several accounts said the Marines defending the port ran out of ammunition and fled.58 Photographs subsequently posted by the Islamic State on behalf of IS-CAP showed a large amount of light weaponry that had apparently been seized in the ambush that preceded the attack on Mocimboa.59

ACLED said the attack displayed “rapid improvement in insurgent capabilities, in terms of both resources — the attack relied on the largest gathering of insurgent manpower yet seen in the conflict — and tactics.”60 This view is supported by Adriano Nuvunga, executive director at the Center for Democracy and Development in Mozambique. “Insurgents have gained confidence, capacity, more coordination, and they have been bolder in their actions,” he said.61

Part of that capacity is ASWJ’s ability to deploy a number of small launches in coastal waters. After occupying Mocimboa, a group of insurgents launched an attack on a nearby island and is reported to have beheaded several people.62 The insurgents also occupied another island—Vamizi—that had been developed as a boutique resort, destroying much of the accommodation before leaving.63

The occupation of Mocimboa was a crushing blow for the government, which had prioritized the defense of the port. According to some reports, ASWJ sank one of the Mozambique Navy’s HS132 patrol vessels with RPGs.64 Columbo, the CSIS analyst, describes the response of the government as stagnant and incoherent as it has struggled to define who the insurgents are.65 It regularly announces the arrest of terrorist leaders but seems to have little intelligence on ASWJ’s organization, and especially on the roles of any non-Mozambicans. The security forces—as discussed below—have often been slow to move reinforcements; the quality of recruits is poor. More than a month after the loss of Mocimboa, the government claimed that while it did not control the town, nor did the insurgents. “We are not physically in the port and town of Mocimboa da Praia [but they] are not in the hands of the terrorists because we exercise increased control,” said Police Commander Bernardino Rafael.66 But there was no evidence the insurgents had left Mocimboa as of mid-October 2020, and no sign of the security forces being in the town.

Even before the port’s capture, the United States viewed the situation in northern Mozambique with growing alarm. In a State Department briefing a week before the assault, U.S. Major General Dagvin R.M. Anderson, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, said the United States had observed the insurgents “over the last 12 to 18 months develop in their capabilities, become more aggressive, and use techniques and procedures that are common in other parts of the world – in the Middle East – that are associated with Islamic State.”67

For now, energy projects are not affected. But the center of operations for the French company Total—the coastal town of Palma close to the border with Tanzania—is just 60 kilometers from Mocimboa da Praia, and the road between the two is deemed unsafe. So is the main coastal road between Mocimboa and the provincial capital, Pemba.68

The anticipated revenues from natural gas, which is due to begin flowing in 2024, will be critical to a country that is deeply in debt.69 The volume of LNG to be tapped could put Mozambique among the top 10 producers in the world.70 The energy company Total alone is expected to spend $23 billion on developing the Golfinho and Atum offshore fields.71 Eni SpA’s consortium has a separate $8 billion offshore project called Coral South.72 Exxon Mobil is also planning significant investment, but last year delayed work on its Rovuma LNG facility.73

The extraction requires onshore facilities to liquify the gas; some are already being built on the Afungi Peninsula. Total has established secure facilities protected by private security contractors with armored vehicles. The facility has its own jetty and a runway capable of receiving small passenger jets.74 But the company has not been immune from the violence. The insurgents have already killed a number of local employees and contractors. Eight people were killed in an attack on a vehicle belonging a subcontractor, Fenix Construction Services, in June 2020.75 In August 2020, Total signed a security agreement with the Mozambique government through which the company will provide logistical support to a newly established joint taskforce that will protect its Afungi facilities and surrounding areas.76 This suggests the company is concerned about the reach of the insurgency. But the agreement also runs the risk of diverting better elements of the Mozambican army away from the rest of Cabo Delgado.

In a statement on July 3, 2020, IS-CAP threatened to attack the natural gas projects, declaring: “If the Crusaders reckon that they in their support for the disbelieving government in Mozambique will protect their investments and guarantee the continuation of their plunder of the resources of the region, they are delusional.”77

Analyst Raymakers expects that in the coming months, ASWJ will launch occasional tactical assaults in Afungi to pin down defense forces in the area and give it breathing space elsewhere in Cabo Delgado.78 But he believes the group realizes that an all-out assault on LNG facilities would be too costly. Raymakers believes that the region’s capital, the port of Pemba, may also become a target. Such an operation would demand much greater numbers than the attack on Mocimboa.79

The past three years have shown that al-Shabaab/ASWJ has been tactically aware in selecting targets, gradually becoming more ambitious but being careful not to get trapped in a single location. Going forward, much depends on the group’s own calculations on what if any territory is worth fighting for. As it expands, it will also need to become more adept at resupply of everything from food to fuel, and this in turn will require a more coherent approach to raising and spending money.

Cabo Delgado, Mozambique

International Jihadism in Cabo Delgado
The most challenging aspect of studying the Cabo Delgado insurgency is the extent to which it may have been co-opted by the Islamic State and boosted by the arrival of foreign jihadis.

In April 2019, the Islamic State’s central leadership recognized a new Islamic State province called the Islamic State in Central Africa (IS-CAP). Its first component was based in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.f Not long after, in June 2019, and without much fanfare, IS-CAP adopted the insurgency in Cabo Delgado as its second component and from then onward Islamic State Central’s media apparatus began issuing reports of attacks carried out by IS-CAP’s wing in Mozambique.80 Notwithstanding the Islamic State’s organizational chart for the region, the history of the Mozambican insurgency provides very little firm evidence of the extent of international involvement.

In 2017, a senior figure on the Islamic Council in Cabo Delgado, Said Bakar, told a Portuguese news network that the local al-Shabaab had been influenced by a radical Kenyan cleric, Sheikh Aboud Rogo Mohammed.81 Rogo had preached in Swahili—a language widely spoken in northern Mozambique—and his following among jihadi circles in East Africa was not dimmed by his murder in 2012.g

Also in 2017, the authorities alleged that one of the leaders of ASWJ was Nuro Adremane, a Mozambican who had received training in Somalia.82 A Gambian cleric called Musa was also named as inciting the population in an area known for ruby mining.83 Neither has been apprehended nor appeared in any of the group’s media publications.

When a wave of arrests of anti-government Islamists in Mozambique took place in late 2017 and early 2018, local media reported that of nearly 400 detained, more than 50 were purportedly from Tanzania and a handful from Uganda.84 The Tanzanian link is the most persuasive. There is a common ethnic and linguistic bond among the Mwani on either side of the porous border. Tanzanian migrant laborers cross the border to work in the artisinal mines.h Historically, Islamic clerics in Mozambique have spent time in Tanzania. It also seems likely that some Islamist militants from southern Tanzania have resettled across the border in recent years. The Tanzanian government launched a campaign against their strongholds in the Kibiti area after an ambush killed eight policemen in April 2017.85 In January 2018, a senior Tanzanian police official said some of the militants had escaped to Mozambique, whose government had agreed to pursue them.86 At about the same time, the insurgency in Mozambique was finding its feet.

This year, some recently displaced civilians say they have seen Tanzanians among the ASWJ, identifiable by their dialect.87 Regional sources contend that some ASWJ fighters have spent time at a training camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo run by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a largely Ugandan group that embraces jihadism and was the first component of IS-CAP.88

Another strand of a possible Ugandan link was the 2018 arrest in Cabo Delgado of Abdul Rahman Faisal Nsamba, wanted by Ugandan authorities on terrorism charges, along with several other Ugandans. Nsamba had been linked to a radical mosque in Kampala.89

While these linkages cannot be confirmed, they suggest a swirling jihadi firmament in East Africa, one that percolated southwards to fertile territory in Cabo Delgado.90 As noted above, halfway through 2019, the Islamic State began claiming the attacks in Mozambique as its own. A communique released in June 2019 through the Islamic State-affiliated Amaq News Agency said, “the soldiers of the Caliphate were able to repel an attack by the Crusader Mozambican army … killing and wounding a number of them.”91 IS-CAP had only emerged three months earlier as an active Islamic State province and its activities had, until then, been confined to the Beni region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.92 A short while later, “caliphate soldiers attacked Mozambican army barracks in the Nangade region of northern Mozambique,” according to the translation of an Amaq claim by SITE.93 The speed with which the Islamic State has claimed some attacks in Mozambique suggests at least that it has communication with ASWJ. The relationship remains clouded in mystery. Puxton notes that in one video in mid-2019, a group of Mozambicans are seen pledging allegiance to then Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but there has been no pledge from any purported ASWJ leader to the central leadership of the Islamic State.94

A recent CTC Sentinel study by Tomasz Rolbiecki, Pieter van Ostaeyen, and Charlie Winter found that the pro-Islamic State Nashir News Agency claimed 14 attacks in Mozambique in 2019, a number dwarfed by Nashir’s reporting of attacks in Egypt and Nigeria and less than one-third of the number reported in Somalia.95

Data accumulated by ACLED indicates that IS-CAP has publicized just a fraction of the clashes and operations carried out by ASWJ in Cabo Delgado.96 i Jasmine Opperman, a security analyst in South Africa who compiled the data, says it appears to focus on publicizing high-profile operations but that does not diminish IS-CAP’s involvement in and commitment to the insurgency in Mozambique.97

In the final analysis, the leadership, structure, and aims of ASWJ remain opaque, and its relationship with the wider African and international jihadi movement is difficult to assess with any confidence.

However, it has become convenient for the Mozambique government to paint the insurgency as imported rather than native. In April 2020, after the attacks in Muidumbe (and 10 months after dismissing the IS-CAP claims in Mozambique), the Mozambique government began accentuating the link between the insurgency and the Islamic State, saying the revolt was being driven by foreign terrorist elements.98 Mozambican Defense Minister Neto claimed in August 2020 that the “alleged Islamic state” in Cabo Delgado was receiving reinforcements from outside the country.99 That has become the government line. After the loss of Mocimboa, President Nyusi said there were signs “of foreigners who are recruiting and training local youth, and who must also be equipping them, because we don’t know how they get equipment.”100

The United States also sees efforts by Islamic State affiliates to expand in the region. In his briefing in August 2020, Major General Anderson said he was “seeing Islamic State move down the east coast of Africa … We’re seeing them establish affiliates or leverage local grievances and consolidate those into their larger movement in DRC and Central African Republic and down towards Mozambique.”101 He added that local grievances in Mozambique were now being leveraged by the Islamic State and said media efforts to publicize the insurgents’ operations had “the fingerprints and hallmarks of Islamic State.”102

Regional observers note improved techniques on the part of ASWJ that may benefit from outside help. There are unconfirmed reports, for example, that fighters are now using tunnels to avoid detection from the air.103 There are other signs that are intruiguing rather than conclusive. During the attack on Mocimboa in June 2020, slogans appeared on the streets in English, which is rarely used in northern Mozambique.104

Major General Anderson and others acknowledge the difficulty in assessing the links. “They are having influence. We don’t know to what extent,” he said of the Islamic State in Cabo Delgado. He added that the situation was being inflamed by the “Islamic State-Core, that now provides them training, it provides them education, and it provides them additional resources.”105

There’s little public evidence for such extensive connections. As the Soufan Center has observed, the absence of any video release from the Islamic State when Mocimboa was seized “suggests the media connection between ISCAP and Islamic State may not be as strong as in the case of Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP).”106

The historian Morier-Genoud argues, “one may expect that there will be a strengthening of ties between the two actors over time and that ISIS will eventually influence the insurgents’ strategy, tactics and targeting. But one cannot assume that this has happened or will happen.”107

On the basis of existing evidence, that is a fair assessment. The association is established, and the Islamic State endures even if it does not expand. Africa, with vast ungoverned spaces, remains fertile territory for both the Islamic State and al-Qa`ida. The Islamic State has in Mozambique an opportunity to target several adversaries: the country’s Shi`a community (though it is very small); the much larger Christian presence; as well as Western interests represented by the oil majors. There is also the prospect of expanding the insurgency to southern Tanzania and tapping into a reservoir of militant Islamism across East Africa.

Government Response
In 2017, the Mozambique government opted for a security response to the unrest in Cabo Delgado rather than any effort to address its root causes: poverty, marginalization, expropriation, and a lack of jobs. That approach has endured since.

One study based on fieldwork in 2019 concluded that the security forces “are widely seen to be unable to fulfil their mission to defend civilians from violent attacks by insurgents, on top of being unpopular with the population because of their heavy-handed approach in ‘controlling’ it, and well reported human rights violations.”108 The analyst Raymakers says reports of human rights abuses by the military are rampant, and there is no strategy to win over the civilian population of Cabo Delgado.109 Amnesty International obtained several videos in which soldiers and police are seen carrying out a variety of atrocities against prisoners in Cabo Delgado, including attempted beheading and torture as well as the dismemberment of alleged opposition fighters. The troops reference fighting in Mocimboa, and the videos appear to have been filmed this year.110

Still more troubling is a video that surfaced in September 2020 of men in uniform pursuing, beating, and then shooting dead a naked woman in Cabo Delgado.111 The government said the incident would be investigated, but as the Soufan Center commented, it “made it less likely that Western countries will be willing to partner with the Mozambican security forces to combat ISCAP.”112 Raymakers says the incident is an ideal recruitment tool for the insurgents and reinforces one of their key messages—that the government “is a predatory structure with no interest in guaranteeing the well-being of its people and especially northern Mozambicans.”113

The government’s handling of the insurgency has frequently been blunt and arbitrary. In December 2017, for example, government forces carried out a helicopter raid and a bombardment from naval vessels on the village of Mitumbate, which was believed to be an ASWJ stronghold. Local media said women and children were among 50 killed in an indiscriminate bombardment.114

As jihadi insurgent attacks multiplied in 2020, the security forces were slow to mobilize. “There seemed to have been neither much of combination nor coordination in FDS [Defense and Security Forces] in immediately repelling the armed attacks,” concludes one study.115 Poor training, a lack of equipment (especially protected transport), interdicted supply lines, and difficult terrain have hampered the Mozambican armed forces and the various foreign military contractors who have arrived since mid-2019.116

There are also issues of command and control: the security forces are fragmented among the Polícia da República (PRM), which has its own militarized Rapid Intervention Unit (UIR) and units of the Forças Armadas e Defesa de Moçambique (FADM). Several observers also speak of distrust between foot soldiers in the army, many of them raw recruits, and their commanders. Newly minted troops are being asked to fight in a conflict they do not understand and for which they are poorly equipped. “Many soldiers apparently sell their uniforms and weapons to run away from a war which they do not see as theirs,” concludes one study.117 Many are from the south of the country, unfamiliar with the territory or population.

Both the government and security forces have also been preoccupied with a rebellion by dissident members of the RENAMO group in central Mozambique, which has diverted resources from Cabo Delgado. President Nyusi signed a peace deal with RENAMO in August 2019, but part of the group rejected the agreement and sporadic clashes continue.

The country’s indebtedness and chronic corruption have left the armed forces starved of investment. A source in Maputo told the author that the military is poorly structured for counterterrorism and needs “intelligence-led operations, small and well-equipped elite units, military drone technology and better regional and transnational coordination.”118

More recently, as the humanitarian situation deteriorated, President Nyusi began to talk more in terms of development for the north. The government has launched a new development agency—Agência de Desenvolvimento Integrado do Norte (ADIN)—to revitalize the north. But it will take months and even years before it bears fruit.

International Intervention
Several countries, including the United States, France, and Portugal, have offered the government of Mozambique support in dealing with the insurgency, though none has proposed putting its own forces into the country.j Major General Anderson said, “We like to keep this away from the military as much as possible because there are multiple other means to engage with violent extremism to eliminate those underlying conditions.”119 In a change of policy in September 2020, and perhaps in recognition of the gravity of the situation, the Mozambique government appealed to the European Union “for help in training its armed forces to battle the insurgency,” as well as humanitarian aid for the growing tide of displaced.120

The European Union said in October 2020 it would offer “logistics for training and technical training in several and specific areas” but would require “verifiable commitments from the Mozambican security forces to respect human rights in its operations and hold violators accountable” before providing military support. That support would not include any combat role.121

Over the past year, President Nyusi has preferred to use private military contractors, from Russia and southern Africa, with limited success and little consistency. In 2019, several firms bid for security work in Cabo Delgado, among them the South African contractor Umbra Aviation, “which recommended the use of attack aircraft and helicopters as well as a range of armored vehicles, in what it described as ‘a proposal for the effective defeat/destruction of the hostile/anti-government components.’”122

However, the government then turned in a different direction. In August 2019, Nyusi visited Moscow, the first visit to Russia by a Mozambican head of state in two decades. He and President Vladmir Putin signed agreements on mineral resources, energy, defense, and security. Russian energy giant Rosneft signed an agreement at the same time with Mozambique’s state-owned energy company to help develop gas fields.123 Within a month, the first contingent of Russian private military contractors from the Wagner Group arrived in Mozambique. Approximately 160 contractors arrived on September 13, 2019, in a Russian Antonov An-124 plane, according to flight data. Twelve days later, a second Antonov An-124 touched down at Nacala carrying military equipment, including an Mi-17 attack helicopter. They were subsequently based at Pemba and Mueda (the Mozambican army’s main base in Cabo Delgado.)124 The Kremlin put distance between itself and the Russian contingent. Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s spokesman, said in early October 2019 that “as far as Mozambique is concerned, there are no Russian soldiers there.”125

The Wagner contingent—comprising at least 200 men—was ill-prepared for the mission at hand. They lacked aerial surveillance and had a poor relationship with local forces. Within weeks they had sustained casualties; at least two contractors were killed, perhaps more.126 The role of the Wagner contingent has since been reduced,127 and the government has turned to contractors from southern Africa, notably Lionel Dyck,128 who had previously assisted with an anti-poaching program in Mozambique.129 In an interview in July 2020, Dyck said, “The stakes are extremely high but the Mozambique Defence Forces are unprepared and under-resourced and we have to move fast.”130

The Dyck Advisory Group has three helicopters based at Pemba131 and is beginning a new role training Mozambican police.132 It lost a Gazelle helicopter in April 2020, which was apparently shot down by insurgents,133 and a Bat Hawk ultralight crashed two months later.134 Sources say its efforts to assist troops defending Mocimboa port in August 2020 were ineffective, with ammunition dropped too far from the garrison to be retrieved.135 The fact that helicopters had to be deployed from Pemba gave them limited time over Mocimboa.136 Raymakers says military contractors may be able to plug certain capability gaps, but helicopters are not going to change the dynamics of the conflict. Contractors also have a risk threshold.137 The scholar Emilia Columbo agrees that “to the extent PMC [private military contractor]-supported operations have been successful in pushing back insurgents, we have seen them adapt, regroup, and strike again.”138

Regional Intervention
The Mozambique government has so far been reluctant to call upon neighbors for security assistance. It has instead stressed the need for border security, in keeping with its line that the insurgency is driven from beyond Mozambique. Defence Minister Neto has said that the only help Mozambique needs “is vigilance at the borders to prevent bandits from entering our territory.”139

To the United States, a lack of regional coordination threatens to leave a vacuum in which the insurgency can grow. Major General Anderson said in August 2020: “Other countries in the region will need to engage: Tanzania, Malawi, and others will need to help. Terrorists know no borders.  They will cross borders.  They will engage.  They will seek safe havens and refuges where they can in order to continue to disrupt the region.”140

After the August 2020 attack on Mocimboa, Tanzania’s defense forces launched a counterinsurgency operation along the thickly forested border adjacent to the Rovuma River.141 They reported detaining one group suspected of being militants. A source close to the Mozambican presidency said collaboration with Tanzania was close and fruitful.142 The regional grouping to which Mozambique belongs, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), has done little more than express solidarity with Mozambique, both at a ministerial gathering in May 2020 and its virtual summit in August 2020.143 k South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has suggested that SADC will assist,144 but without offering specifics. In any case, recent history suggests the government in Maputo is wary of intervention from South Africa. South Africa may be equally hesitant about getting embroiled in a conflict in which the Mozambican defense forces lack basic capabilities and are frequently accused of human rights abuses. Additionally, the South African defense forces have not staged an operation beyond the country’s own borders since 1998—besides their peacekeeping roles—and have been squeezed of funds in recent years.145 The Islamic State, in its online publication Al Naba, warned at the beginning of July 2020 that any intervention would lead to retaliation inside South Africa.146

The insurgency is, in any case, an East African more than a southern African problem. The porous border with Tanzania along the River Rovuma is the most problematic. Thickly-forested areas of southern Tanzania offer the insurgents escape routes and rear bases. There are linguistic and ethnic bonds among Muslims in northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania.

On October 15, 2020, the Islamic State claimed in a communique the first attack by IS-CAP into southern Tanzania, which included a “clash with Tanzanian soldiers in Mtwara.” IS-CAP fighters “attacked a military post in the town of Kitaya, inflicting an unspecified number of casualties and setting fire to a tank,” the communique stated.147 While there was no confirmation of the incident by Tanzanian authorities, it was reported in regional media, and a photograph of a damaged Chinese-made armored personnel carrier in service with the Tanzanian military was also circulated.148

Cabo Delgado is now at a turning point. The months-long occupation of a major town by ASWJ, as well as continuing operations across a wide area, is dramatic evidence of the group’s growing capabilities. It requires fresh thinking from the government in addressing both the security threat and the underlying social and economic conditions in the region.

“The momentum is firmly with ASWJ and without significant regional assistance, substantial financial commitments and major structural reform it is unlikely that the Mozambican army will manage to substantially turn the tide in their favour in the next six months,” Raymakers says.149 In a June 2020 report, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change argued that ASWJ may “potentially pose just as acute a threat as Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin, Jama’a Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimin’ (JNIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) in the Sahel, and al-Shabaab in Somalia.”150

At present, there is little sign of a coherent government strategy. Analyst Emilia Columbo says that Mozambican security forces are not trained in counter-extremist operations and lack the discipline, equipment, and military intelligence to combat the insurgency. And without a more comprehensive approach to dealing with economic and social problems in northern Mozambique, she believes the insurgency will become an entrenched and long-term security problem.151

For its part, ASWJ’s growing tactical sophistication, widening reach, and ability to hold territory pose deep problems for a state that appears hesitant to draw on foreign assistance. Promised economic assistance to northern Mozambique can only begin when a degree of security is restored; at present, about one-third of the province is consistently or largely beyond the government’s control and its main coastal artery is unsafe.152 Mozambique’s insurgency is intensifying and becoming a growing attraction for jihadis beyond its borders.

Attacks by ASWJ across Cabo Delgado in the first nine months of 2020 were twice those in all of 2019.153 The group has established a dangerous momentum. Whether that continues depends on ASWJ’s own ability to recruit more fighters and attract jihadis from elsewhere in East Africa, as well as its ability to sustain operations financially and through acquiring more powerful weaponry. The indications thus far are that the insurgency is driven by young, marginalized Mozambicans, but the first signs are emerging of capabilities that suggest advice and assistance is coming from outside Mozambique, given the rapid evolution of the insurgency.

The immediate future will also depend on the government’s willingness to seek international assistance beyond simply protecting energy infrastructure in the Afungi Peninsula. The seizure of Mocimboa da Praia may have been a wake-up call. President Nyusi has indicated the government’s readiness to embark on a broader campaign to win hearts and minds in the north through financing economic development. However, there is little sign yet of the urgent reforms required to improve the organization and effectiveness of the security forces. That will demand much more than the limited training and other support that can be offered by private military contractors. It will also demand that the international community—especially the United States and European Union—provides greater support and training that is tied to well-focused aid programs.

The current trajectory of the conflict suggests that 2021 will be an even greater challenge than this year—so far—has been.     CTC

Tim Lister is a journalist with CNN who has covered multiple conflicts in the past decade in the Middle East, Ukraine, and Africa, as well as the activities of Russian private military contractors on three continents. He is also co-author of Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA and Nine Lives: My Time as MI6’s Top Spy Inside al Qaeda. Follow @TimListerCNN

© 2020 Tim Lister

Substantive Notes
[a] Sometimes translated as “Followers of the Prophet’s path and the unity of the Ummah,” though there are other variations.

[b] This article, for the sake of consistency, will refer to the group as ASWJ, although the moniker was only adopted more recently. See Eric Morier-Genoud, “The jihadi insurgency in Mozambique: origins, nature and beginning,” Journal of Eastern African Studies 14:3 (2020): p. 3.

[c] RENAMO (The Mozambican National Resistance), supported by apartheid South Africa, was defeated by FRELIMO in the battle for Mozambican independence but continued to wage a brutal guerrilla war until the 1992 peace agreement. This eventually collapsed, before another deal for the cessation of hostilities was agreed in 2014 and involved the disarmament of most RENAMO fighters. But a small faction, thought to number some 500 rebels, has refused to lay down its arms, despite a further agreement in August 2019. See Manuel Mucari, Emma Rumney, and Alistair Smout, “Pact is reached in Mozambique but prospects for peace still uncertain,” Reuters, August 6, 2019.

[d] The U.K. law firm Leigh Day represented 273 Mozambicans in a legal action against the U.K. company Gemfields, which held a majority stake in a local operation that was granted a 36,000-hectare concession in Cabo Delgado. Hundreds of artisanal miners were forced out of the area. The case was settled in 2019, with Gemfields paying GBP 5.8 million. “Gemfields Press Statement,” January 29, 2019; “Statement by Leigh Day in relation to the settlement of the human rights claims against Gemfields Ltd,” Leigh Day, January 29, 2019. See also “Dans le nord du Mozambique, la face cachée de la fièvre du rubis,” Agence France-Presse, October 7, 2018.

[e] In 2017, an official of the Islamic Council of Mozambique spoke of students attending a university in Khartoum, Sudan. See Raquel Loureiro and António Cascais, “Ataque em Mocímboa da Praia terá sido ‘caso isolado,’” DW, October 16, 2017.

[f] As other analysts have noted, in April 2019, Islamic State Central’s media apparatus “issued the first IS-CAP activity report, relating details about an attack in the DRC.” Tomasz Rolbiecki, Pieter Van Ostaeyen, and Charlie Winter, “The Islamic State’s Strategic Trajectory in Africa: Key Takeaways from its Attack Claims,” CTC Sentinel 13:8 (2020).

[g] Sheikh Rogo had been placed on U.S. and U.N. sanctions lists for allegedly supporting Somalia’s al-Shabaab. In 2012, unknown assailants killed him in Mombasa. The UN designation can be found at “Aboud Rogo Mohammed,” United Nations Security Council, October 29, 2014.

[h] For years, illegal migrants from Somalia, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other countries, have entered northern Mozambique across the unpoliced Rovuma River. For example, “Mozambique/Tanzania: Horn migrants beaten, deported, imprisoned,” Refworld, September 2011.

[i] A review of incidents in Cabo Delgado since June 2019 shows that the great majority of operations carried out by the insurgents, whether attacks on villages and civilian infrastructure or against military patrols and outposts, are never claimed. The Islamic State claims some high-profile attacks on behalf of IS-CAP, but they appear to amount to a small fraction of the total.

[j] Portugal has said it is assisting Mozambique with its counterinsurgency program. “Governo consulta UE e ONU sobre Cabo Delgado. PSD pede intervenção externa,” Plataforma, June 17, 2020. According to the author’s background interviews with regional security sources, France offered to assist Mozambique with surveillance and satellite imagery in late 2019.

[k] Article 6 (1) of the SADC Mutual Defence Pact specifies that “an armed attack against a state party shall be considered a threat to regional peace and security and such an attack shall be met with immediate collective action.” However, the organization has not exercised this option.

[1] Tomasz Rolbiecki, Pieter Van Ostaeyen, and Charlie Winter, “The Islamic State’s Strategic Trajectory in Africa: Key Takeaways from its Attack Claims,” CTC Sentinel 13:8 (2020).

[2] “Escalating conflict in Mozambique, forces hundreds of thousands to flee amidst worsening humanitarian crises,” World Food Programme, September 22, 2020.

[3] “Cabo Ligado Weekly: 17-23 August 2020,” Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED); author interviews, regional analysts, September 2020.

[4] Saide Habibe, Salvador Forquilha, and João Pereira, “Radicalização Islâmica no norte de Moçambique: O caso da Mocímboa da Praia,” Instituto de Estudos Sociais e Económicos, Maputo, September 2019.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Eric Morier-Genoud, “Tracing the history of Mozambique’s mysterious and deadly insurgency,” Conversation, February 18, 2019.

[7] See Eric Morier-Geroud’s detailed study, “The jihadi insurgency in Mozambique: origins, nature and beginning,” Journal of Eastern African Studies 14:3 (2020).

[8] Francisco Almeida dos Santos, “War in resource-rich northern Mozambique – Six scenarios,” CMI Insight, No. 2, May 2020.

[9] Ibid. For a detailed exploration of ethnic differences in the region, see Ana Margarida Sousa Santos, “History, memory and violence: changing patterns of group relationship in Mocímboa da Praia, Mozambique,” DPhil thesis, St Antony’s College Oxford, 2010.

[10] Dos Santos.

[11] Sousa Santos. See especially Chapter VIII.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Comments on Facebook page “Lutar por Cabo Delgado,” April 13, 2020.

[14] See Morier-Genoud, “The jihadi insurgency in Mozambique.”

[15] Liazzat J.K. Bonate, “Islam and Chiefship in Northern Mozambique,” ISIM Review, Spring 2007.

[16] Morier-Genoud, “The jihadi insurgency in Mozambique,” p. 8.

[17] Ibid., p. 3.

[18] Ibid., p. 9.

[19] Sérgio Chichava, “Os Primeiros Sinais do ‘Al Shabaab’ em Cabo Delgado: Algumas Historias de Macomia e Ancuabe,” IDeIAS, Instituto de Estudos Socias e Economicas, April 24, 2020. See also “Detidos por promoverem desinformação em Macomia,” Noticias Online, June 20, 2017.

[20] Ibid.; Morier-Genoud, “The jihadi insurgency in Mozambique,” p. 9.

[21] Morier-Genoud, “The jihadi insurgency in Mozambique,” p. 10 (italics in original).

[22] Raquel Loureiro and António Cascais, “Ataque em Mocímboa da Praia terá sido ‘caso isolado,’” DW, October 16, 2017.

[23] Ibid.

[24] “12 killed as jihadists attack village in north Mozambique,” Agence France-Presse, September 21, 2018.

[25] Dos Santos.

[26] Ibid.; author’s analysis of ACLED data.

[27] “Twenty-sixth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities,” United Nations Security Council, July 23, 2020.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Lisa Schlein, “Thousands Flee Brutal Attacks by Armed Groups in Northern Mozambique,” Voice of America, February 7, 2020.

[30] Author interviews, regional security analysts, including Jasmine Oppermann, August 2020.

[31] Schlein.

[32] “Mozambique: Quissanga Attack – Police Command Seized, Residents Flee,” allAfrica, March 26, 2020.

[33] “Moçambique/Ataques: Grupos armados em Cabo Delgado executaram 52 jovens – polícia,” LUSA news agency, April 21, 2020.

[34] Hannes Wessels, “Colonel Dyck And The Fight For Northern Mozambique,” Africa Unauthorised, July 17, 2020.

[35] “Thousands displaced, healthcare jeopardised, as violence surges in Cabo Delgado,” MSF, June 5, 2020.

[36] “Crisis Watch,” Crisis Group, July 2020.

[37] Author interview, ICRC country representative, Raoul Bittel. September 2020.

[38] “Many of those missing after June 27 attack may be in the hands of terrorists – MediaFax,” Club of Mozambique, July 9, 2020.

[39] Author’s background interviews with human rights groups, August 2020.

[40] “Cabo Ligado Weekly: 17-23 August 2020.”

[41] “Cabo Ligado Weekly: 21-27 September 2020,” ACLED.

[42] Unpublished details shared by Matteo Puxton with the author.

[43] Author interviews, security analysts, August and September 2020.

[44] Author interview, Emilia Columbo, August 2020.

[45] Dos Santos.

[46] Author interviews, regional security analysts, August and September 2020.

[47] Simone Haysom, Peter Gastrow, and Mark Shaw, “The heroin coast: A political economy along the eastern African seaboard,” ENACT, June 2018.

[48] Simone Haysom, “Where Crime Compounds Conflict – Understanding northern Mozambique’s Vulnerabilities,” Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, October 2018.

[49] Author interviews, regional security analysts, August and September 2020.

[50] Dos Santos.

[51] Ibid.

[52] “Rebels kidnap ten persons in Mocimboa da Praia while Renamo dissidents kill in the centre of the country – report,” Club of Mozambique, June 29, 2020.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Accounts of the August campaign are drawn from the author’s interviews with security analysts, humanitarian groups, and local sources on background, August and September 2020.

[55] Zenaida Machado, “Mozambique Should Protect Civilians During Insurgent Fight,” Human Rights Watch, August 14, 2020.

[56] “Mozambique attacks: Insurgents operate against Mocímboa da Praia from the port – Government,” Club of Mozambique, August 13, 2020.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Costas Paris, Sarah McFarlane, and Benoit Faucon, “Islamist Attacks in Mozambique Threaten to Disrupt Total-Led Natural-Gas Project,” Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2020. Details of the battle for the port were provided in several interviews with the author.

[59] “ISCAP Documents Result of Clashes in Mocimboa da Praia, Shows Corpses and War Spoils,” SITE Intelligence, August 12, 2020.

[60] “Cabo Ligado Weekly: 10-16 August 2020,” ACLED.

[61] Quoted in Sirwan Kajjo and Amancio Vilanculos, “Can Regional Powers Help Combat Insurgency in Northern Mozambique?” Voice of America, August 23, 2020.

[62] “Mozambique: Terrorist Behead Seven On Nhonge Island,” allAfrica, August 27, 2020.

[63] Peta Thornycroft, “Jihadists launch assault on Mozambique’s luxury tourist island,” Daily Telegraph, September 20, 2020.

[64] “Cabo Delgado Weekly: 10-16 August 2020.”

[65] Author interview, Emilia Columbo, August 2020.

[66] “Porto de Mocímboa da Praia está sob controlo das FDS,” Notícias de Defesa, September 27, 2020.

[67] “Digital Briefing on U.S. Efforts to Combat Terrorism in Africa during COVID,” U.S. State Department, August 4, 2020.

[68] Author interviews, human rights groups, August and September 2020; author interview, Jasmine Opperman, August 2020.

[69] Joseph Cotterill and David Keohane, “Total secures Africa’s biggest debt financing with LNG deal,” Financial Times, July 16, 2020.

[70] For example, see Sihle Qekeleshe, “Mozambique: The Next Great LNG Player,” Africa Oil And Power, March 20, 2020.

[71] Paris, McFarlane, and Faucon.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Author interviews, international security analysts focused on Mozambique, August 2020.

[75] “Gunmen kill 8 gas project workers in northern Mozambique,” Agence France-Presse, July 6, 2020.

[76] “Total and Mozambique sign security pact for $20 billion natural gas project,” Reuters, August 24, 2020.

[77] “Islamic State Editorial on Mozambique,” translated by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, posted on aymennjawad.org, July 3, 2020.

[78] Author interview, Raymakers, September 2020.

[79] Author interviews, international security analysts and human rights groups, September 2020.

[80] Rolbiecki, Ostaeyen, and Winter.

[81] “Kenyan leads group that terrorized Mocímboa da Praia,” RTP News, October 13, 2017.

[82] Sunguta West, “Leaders of Mozambican Militant Group Revealed,” Jamestown Foundation, October 4, 2018.

[83] Gregory Pirio, Robert Pittelli, and Yussuf Adam, “The Emergence of Violent Extremism in Northern Mozambique,” Africa Center for Strategic Studies, March 25, 2018.

[84] Ibid.

[85] “Al-Shabaab Five Years after Westgate: Still a Menace in East Africa,” Report No. 265, International Crisis Group, September 2018.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Author background interview, international humanitarian organization official, August 2020.

[88] Author interviews, regional sources, August 2020.

[89] Author background interview, regional security analyst, September 2020. See also “Uganda police want Usafi mosque imam, five others extradited from Mozambique,” Club of Mozambique, January 30, 2019.

[90] For a recent analysis in this publication on the jihadi threat in East Africa, see Matt Bryden and Premdeep Bahra, “East Africa’s Terrorist Triple Helix: The Dusit Hotel Attack and the Historical Evolution of the Jihadi Threat,” CTC Sentinel 12:6 (2019).

[91] Caleb Weiss, “Islamic State claims first attack in Mozambique,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 4, 2019.

[92] Rolbiecki, Ostaeyen, and Winter.

[93] “IS Claims Multiple Casualties in Assault and Ensuing Clash with Soldiers in Mozambique.” See also Caleb Weiss, “Islamic State claims first attack in Mozambique,” FDD’s Long War Journal, June 4, 2019.

[94] Author interview, Matteo Puxton, August 2020.

[95] Rolbiecki, Ostaeyen, and Winter, see Figure 3.

[96] “Cabo Ligado: Mozambique Conflict Observatory,” Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

[97] Author interview, Jasmine Opperman, September 2020.

[98] See “Mozambique: Islamic State involvement in Cabo Delgado recognised – AIM report,” Club of Mozambique, April 24, 2020.

[99] His comments in Portuguese are available at “Transmissão ao vivo de Televisão de Moçambique TVM,” YouTube, August 13, 2020.

[100] Quoted in Kajjo and Vilanculos.

[101] “Digital Briefing on U.S. Efforts to Combat Terrorism in Africa during COVID.”

[102] Ibid.

[103] Author’s background interviews, August 2020.

[104] “Mocimboa streets daubed with Islamic State slogans,” Club of Mozambique, July 9, 2020.

[105] “Digital Briefing on U.S. Efforts to Combat Terrorism in Africa during COVID.”

[106] “IntelBrief: Islamic State Fighters in Mozambique Demonstrate Increasing Resilience,” Soufan Center, September 23, 2020.

[107] Morier-Genoud, “The jihadi insurgency in Mozambique.”

[108] Dos Santos.

[109] Author interview, Alexandre Raymakers, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, September 2020.

[110] “Mozambique: Torture by security forces in gruesome videos must be investigated,” Amnesty International, September 9, 2020.

[111] David McKenzie, Brent Swails, and Vasco Cotovio, “Amnesty International calls for investigation into video showing execution of woman in Mozambique,” CNN, September 16, 2020.

[112] “IntelBrief: Islamic State Fighters in Mozambique Demonstrate Increasing Resilience.”

[113] Author’s interview, Alexandre Raymakers, September 2020.

[114] “Police launch ‘manhunt’ in Mocimboa da Praia,” Club of Mozambique, December 28, 2017.

[115] Dos Santos.

[116] Author background interviews, regional security analysts and military contractors, August 2020.

[117] Dos Santos.

[118] Author interview with Mozambican security analyst on background, September 2020.

[119] “Digital Briefing on U.S. Efforts to Combat Terrorism in Africa during COVID.”

[120] “Mozambique asks EU for help in tackling insurgency,” Reuters, September 23, 2020.

[121] “European Union agrees to help Mozambique tackle insurgency: statement,” Reuters, October 14, 2020.

[122] Tim Lister and Sebastian Shukla, “Russian mercenaries fight shadowy battle in gas-rich Mozambique,” CNN November 29, 2019.

[123] “Rosneft, INP and ENH Expand Cooperation in Mozambique,” Rosneft press release, August 24, 2019.

[124] Lister and Shukla.

[125] Ibid.

[126] Ibid.

[127] Author background interviews, regional security analysts, September 2020.

[128] Author background interviews, regional security analysts, September 2020.

[129] Wessels.

[130] Ibid.

[131] The helicopters were present in August 2020, and the author has received no update since then. Author interview, regional security analyst, September 2020.

[132] “Colonel Dyck confirms Mozambique Ground Force Plans,” Zitamar News, July 20, 2020.

[133] Patrick Kenyette, “South African mercenary’s Gazelle helicopter shot down in Mozambique,” Military Africa, April 10, 2020.

[134] Guy Martin, “Another private military contractor aircraft down in Mozambique,” defenceWeb, June 19, 2020.

[135] Author interview, regional security source, August 2020.

[136] Ibid.

[137] Ibid.

[138] Ibid.

[139] Tom Bowker, “Battle looms in Mozambique over extremists’ control of port,” Associated Press, August 25, 2020.

[140] “Digital Briefing on U.S. Efforts to Combat Terrorism in Africa during COVID.” See also Jason Warner, “A View from the CT Foxhole: Brigadier General Dagvin R.M. Anderson, Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command Africa,” CTC Sentinel 13:2 (2020).

[141] “TPDF to launch a manhunt along the border with Mozambique,” Citizen, August 11, 2020.

[142] Author interview, a source close to the Mozambican presidency, August 2020.

[143] The communique of the May 2020 meeting is available on the South African Development Community website, entitled “Communiqué of the Extraordinary Organ Troika Plus Republic of Mozambique Summit of Heads of State and Government, Harare – Zimbabwe, 19 May 2020.” For an account of the August 2020 meeting, see Kajjo and Vilanculos.

[144] “Mozambique: SADC is preparing Cabo Delgado intervention – Ramaphosa,” LUSA, September 1, 2020.

[145] Guy Martin and Kim Helfrich, “Military not strong enough to intervene in Mozambique – experts,” defenceWeb, September 4, 2020.

[146] Al Naba, issue 241, July 2020.

[147] “ISCAP Claims Attack in Tanzania’s Mtwara Region, Clash in DRC,” SITE Intelligence Group, October 15, 2020.

[148] “Insurgentes Atacam Mais Uma Aldeia na Tanzania,” Pinnacle News, October 16, 2020.

[149] Quoted in Andrew MacDonald, “Mozambique: Sophistication of Islamic insurgency threatens LNG plans,” Africa Report, August 24, 2020.

[150] “The Mozambique Conflict and Deteriorating Security Situation,” Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, June 19, 2020.

[151] Author interview, Emilia Columbo, August 2020.

[152] Author interviews, humanitarian organizations working in Mozambique, August and September 2020.

[153] Author analysis of ACLED data, January 2019 to September 2020.

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