Islamist arms supply in northern Mozambique traced

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Islamist insurgents in northern Mozambique have come a long way from the machetes they brandished when terror attacks started in 2017 and are now using AK-47s, rocket propelled grenade launchers and machine guns, mostly sourced from the Mozambican military.

This is according to a Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime (GITOC) report. The report states initial attacks used machetes, AK-47s and other “rudimentary weapons”.

“In the early days of the conflict, insurgents may have tapped into pre-existing sources and illicit flows of weapons in the region. In the lead-up to the insurgency in late 2017, AK-47s were available in northern Mozambique from multiple sources.

“First, older weapons from the civil war remained in places where they were not surrendered during demobilisation, especially where there were RENAMO (or just general anti-Frelimo/anti-government) sympathies. Second, AK-47s in particular were smuggled from the Lakes region (Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo) to northern Mozambique to supply demand from ivory poachers operating in Niassa Reserve and Quirimbas National Park during the peak years of Mozambique’s elephant poaching crisis. As elephant poaching rates collapsed in northern Mozambique in 2018/2019, this is no longer an active source of demand. They may have served al-Shabaab in the early days of their formation, given reports of al-Shabaab recruitment among key groups in Niassa Reserve.

“Finally, weapons from government sources regularly found their way into criminal hands for elephant poaching and for general banditry. Banditry had been an endemic issue in northern Mozambique for many years before the insurgency and illicit weapons were circulated for use by bandits.

“Over time insurgent armouries grew significantly. The bulk of this weaponry comes directly from Mozambican military sources, including weapons captured from security force camps, border posts and police armouries in towns and villages overrun by the insurgents and abandoned by Mozambican security forces in retreat.

“Footage shared by insurgents from the attack on Mocímboa da Praia in March 2020 shows a cache of weapons seized from an armoury in the town. This attack was a significant turning point in the scale of the conflict: an attack on a major town gave insurgents access to a large number of weapons and looted cash. In September 2021, reports emerged of al-Shabaab using a landmine/IED (improvised explosive device), which targeted SADC (Southern African Development Community) forces. The landmine, which formed the basis of this IED, may have been looted from the Namoto border post armoury in 2020, where apparently some old land mines and mortar rounds remained. There are reports of test explosions at insurgent field bases and one report of an insurgent death during IED testing.

“Sources connected to the insurgent group report some Forças Armadas de Defesa de Moçambique (FADM) soldiers were providing weapons to al-Shabaab for money, particularly in 2018 and 2019 before the group grew to become a major threat. This could take place by staging an ambush in which the military detachment would flee, leaving equipment behind, making loss of weapons, vehicles and other equipment appear accidental. A few insurgents reportedly served in the Mozambican military in the conscription system (including senior al-Shabaab leader Ibn Omar) and used former contacts in the military to arrange transfers in exchange for payment.



“Some reports allege groups of soldiers formed by demobilised government forces or deserters trained al-Shabaab members in exchange for money early in the insurgency when they were not considered a major threat. There are also reports of military supplies sent to military outposts redirected to insurgents. While the bulk of weapons used by al-Shabaab clearly come from Mozambican sources, there are persistent reports insurgents allegedly also sourced weapons internationally from Tanzania, DR Congo, Kenya and Somalia,” according to the GITOC report.