US names Mozambique insurgency leader as it sets its sights on the ISIS-affiliated group


ISIS is undeniably expanding from Iraq and Syria to the corners of the globe. By now, it is public knowledge that ISIS is affiliated with the insurgency in Northern Mozambique along with other terrorist groups in Africa.

ISIS seeks global expansion. Then-ISIS emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, killed in a 2019 US military operation in 2019, pointed to ISIS-inspired attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday in 2019 as an example of how ISIS wants to branch out and be a, “thorn in the chest of the crusaders.”

Terrorist groups closer to home, in the case of the Islamic State-affiliated group in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) and the Islamist insurgency in Northern Mozambique (Ansar al-Sunna), are receiving serious attention from the United States. Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Acting Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, John Godfrey, emphasised that, “…nowhere has this trend been as alarming as in Africa. If we are committed to the enduring global defeat of ISIS, or Daesh – and we are – then we have to confront it in Africa.”

These remarks come from a virtual press briefing held on 11 March to discuss US efforts in combating terrorism in Africa.

A day before the press briefing, US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, designated ‘ISIS-DRC’ and ‘ISIS-Mozambique’ as Foreign Terrorist Organisations and Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). He also identified their leaders and designated them as SDGTs, namely Seka Musa Baluku, the leader of ‘ISIS-DRC’, and Abu Yasir Hassan, the leader of ‘ISIS-Mozambique’. Godfrey said that national actions such as these, along with multilateral efforts such as the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS is how the US plans to combat terrorism in Africa. The 83-member Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS held its first meeting focussed on West Africa and the Sahel in late 2020 with an anticipation of expanding focus to include other regions of Africa later this year.

Godfrey said the designations by Blinken put the international community on notice about these groups and individuals. Additionally, these designations seek to deny ISIS in the DRC and Mozambique, along with their leaders, the resources they need to fund their activities and carry out terror attacks. US designated property is blocked and US persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with them. It is also a US crime to provide material support or resources to these ISIS groups.

In the question and answering portion of the press briefing, Godfrey stated that the US is focused on Mozambique and not its northern neighbour Tanzania because Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, is where the manifestations of this insurgency are taking place. “I would not dispute at all that there is a cross-border linkage to Tanzania, and indeed, I think we saw that reflected in a way in the cross-border attacks from northern Mozambique back into Tanzania in October of 2020,” Godfrey said, highlighting that this is similar in other areas of Africa where the US is dealing with ISIS. However, the US is looking at some border security measures for Mozambique.

Other lines of effort that the US plans to take includes training the Mozambican government to counter terrorism finance as well as provide counter-narcotics training. The link between ISIS-Mozambique’s finances and the massive narcotics trade in Northern Mozambique is not clear, with some experts saying there is little evidence to suggest the insurgency is involved with the narcotics trade at all. Godfrey, however, said there is definitely a line of effort for the US to provide the Mozambican government with training to counter the narcotics trade.

Godfrey could not answer further questions on Abu Yasir Hassan. This is the first time a leader of the Mozambique insurgency has been announced and the US is confident they have the right man. Now that the US has begun providing training to Mozambique, albeit only the maritime component, this press briefing indicates the US has already somewhat set their sights on the Mozambique insurgency. More training may be on the way.