Unmarked Gazelle helicopters painted in military camouflage have been spotted in Mozambique, with speculation they may be used for security missions by a private military contractor.
According to Mozambican weekly publication Savana, two Gazelles were seen in Pemba on 6 August. They did not have any insignia or other markings, but were painted in camouflage colours consistent with that of French Army Gazelles, indicating they may be ex-French examples.
Savana reports that the crew were eight men in their forties wearing tan shirts and camouflage pants. It published pictures showing several white males with the helicopters.
“Aeronautical officials declined to comment on the presence of the helicopters in Pemba and one of the multinationals operating in the gas area said the aircraft were not part of its security operation,” Savana reported.
The publication speculated the aircraft could have been acquired to combat terrorists operating in Cabo Delgado.
Jasmine Opperman, African director at the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium and an analyst at the Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism, noted that the arrival of the Gazelles comes at a time of further attacks in Mozambique, with a dozen people apparently killed in several unconfirmed incidents.
Islamic State recently claimed responsibility for attacks in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique’s most northern province, according to SITE Intelligence.
According to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the upsurge in brutal violence in northern Mozambique, including the beheadings of women and children, has sounded alarms that a violent jihadist movement like Boko Haram or al-Shabaab could be evolving.
Those allegedly responsible for the attacks apparently call themselves Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamâ (often abbreviated to al-Sunnah).