For the first time, Islamic State has claimed responsibility for an attack in northern Mozambique, after two years of attacks in the Cabo Delgado province which have to date killed over 200 people.
This is according to SITE Intelligence, which monitors extremist activity around the globe. CITE said that Islamic State issued a statement on Tuesday claiming involvement in a clash with the Mozambican military.
“The soldiers of the Caliphate were able to repulse an attack by the Crusader Mozambican army in Metubi village, in the Mocimboa area,” said the statement, according to SITE. “They clashed with them with a variety of weapons, killing and wounding a number of them. The mujahideen captured weapons, ammunition, and rockets as spoils.” Photos appeared online showing small arms and rocket propelled grenades that were apparently captured.
The attack apparently happened on Monday but has not been verified and it is not clear if Islamic State was indeed responsible or has been in contact with Mozambican fighters.
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.
Multinational energy companies poised to exploit Cabo Delgado’s huge liquefied natural gas reserves have paused. Fears are growing that the violence could sabotage the exploitation of this valuable resource which remains Mozambique’s one great hope for defeating poverty.
Those allegedly responsible for the attacks apparently call themselves Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamâ (often abbreviated to al-Sunnah). Locals dub them al-Shabaab, even though the group doesn’t seem to be formally affiliated to its more famous Somali namesake.
The birth of al-Sunnah in Cabo Delgado dates back to 2013 or early 2014, according to independent security analyst Johann Smith. But on 5 October 2017 it caught wider attention. Thirty to 40 gunmen launched well-coordinated simultaneous attacks on three police or military posts in the coastal town of Moimboa da Praia, 70 km south of the Tanzania border. Two police officers and 14 assailants were killed, Smith said.
According to the ISS, Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamâ (which translates roughly as ‘adherents of the prophetic tradition’) first appeared in the north of Cabo Delgado as a religious group. In 2015 military cells were formed.
The members are believed to be trained both locally – sometimes by disaffected police officers and security guards – and externally in Tanzania and the Great Lakes Region by militia chiefs hired by al-Shabaab in Tanzania, Kenya and Somalia. They preach the usual doctrines, including sharia law. They finance themselves from illicit activities such as wood, charcoal, ivory and ruby smuggling and outside donations.