Islamic State group uses ‘da’wah’ to gain support in Mozambique

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Extremists linked to the Islamic State group (IS) in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province are notorious for raiding and torching entire towns, beheading civilians and attacking security forces.

However, IS-linked groups are pushing to change their image in an effort to win public support and recruit new fighters, analysts say. Notably, they have increased “da’wah” activities in the provincial districts of Chiure, Macomia, Meluco, Mocímboa da Praia, Nangade and Quissanga, which 300 rebel fighters reportedly captured in March.

Da’wah is an Arabic term that roughly means proselytizing. As Caleb Weiss noted in the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal, it is terror groups often attempt to convert people to their version of Islam and build goodwill in communities — even those they seize.

Recently-released IS photos show the group’s leaders leading prayers and offering food to large gatherings of locals. Children are featured in many of the images.

These activities “are an integral part of the Jihadi state-building project and the release of such propaganda helps provide evidence of a form of governance over a specified area,” wrote Weiss, a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, which works to prevent genocide.

According to Mozambique’s Zitamar News, the da’wah movement is part of an outreach strategy employed since late January, when 30 rebels appeared in Mocímboa da Praia, claiming they were only there to buy food and mobile phones.

They then stayed for several hours in the village of Calugo and said there was no reason to fear them, but they also warned residents not to inform security forces that they were there.

Days later, a group of young insurgents arrived at a gold mine in Meluco. They split the mine workers into groups of Muslims and Christians but said they would not kill them. Instead, they bought food, clothes and other supplies before leaving. Most of the fighters were between 14 and 22, and some were from Kenya, Zitamar News reported.

Several such efforts were reported in the ensuing months.

These tactics help the IS take advantage of poor governance, exploit local grievances and recruit new members — in and outside the country. In Mozambique, the IS has attracted foreign fighters from Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania, according to The Soufan Center, an independent research nonprofit.

The group’s more tactful efforts have emerged as international forces scramble to avoid a security gap as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) leaves Cabo Delgado. The entire mission is expected to depart by July.

The troops are leaving as the IS launches new offensives from their heartland in coastal-central Cabo Delgado into the south, where 27 villages were attacked over a four-week period in February and March, The Associated Press reported.

Weiss wrote that he believes the group’s southern expansion will continue, “leading to even more da’wah events to solidify its control and, more importantly, public relations with the local communities.”

More than 100,000 people, including more than 61,000 children, have fled the group’s southern expansion, according to the United Nations. An estimated 72 children were reported missing after recent attacks, Albertina Ussene, the Nampula provincial government’s director of gender, children and social action, told the Lusa news agency.

Piers Pigou of the Institute for Security Studies said the recent mass displacements showed how fragile security in Cabo Delgado remains.

“The government acknowledges that only a handful of insurgents can generate widespread uncertainty,” Pigou told The Associated Press. “This will not change unless communities have far greater belief that the security forces will be able to provide the required stability.”

Rwanda, which is not a SADC member state, has pledged to send more troops to Cabo Delgado as SAMIM leaves. Rwanda already has about 2,500 Soldiers and police personnel in the Ancuabe, Mocímboa da Praia and Palma districts.

Over a one-week period in late April and early May, Mozambican and Rwandan troops conducted joint operations against terrorists in the dense forests of the Nampula district and on small islands along the Lurio River, the country’s second-largest river.

“They [terrorists] have been hiding in these forests since they were dislodged by RSF [Rwanda Security Forces] and Mozambique forces from Catupa forest [in Cabo Delgado province’s Mocamia District] last year,” Brigadier General Ronald Rwivanga, Rwanda Defense Force spokesperson, told Rwandan newspaper The New Times. “They keep moving southwards as they get dislodged.”

About 300 troops from Tanzania, a SADC member, are expected to remain in Cabo Delgado under a separate bilateral security agreement, according to Zitamar News.

Written by Africa Defense Forum and republished with permission. The original article can be found here.