They say, however, that these tensions are political rather than inherently tribal. [fn]Crisis Group interview, Mozambican academic, Maputo, February 2021. See Ana Margarida Sousa Santos, “History, Memory and Violence: Changing Patterns of Group Relationship in Mocímboa da Praia, Mozambique”, PhD thesis, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, 2010, for descriptions of how Portugal’s relationship to the Mwani coastal community up to the 20th century, as well as the mass conversion to Christianity of the Makonde in the 20th century, played a role in setting the two communities apart from each other. See also “Asymmetries in Access to the State: A Fertile Land for the Prevention of Islamic Jihadism”, Observatório do Meio Rural, June 2020; and Eric Morier-Genoud, “The Jihadi Insurgency in Mozambique: Origins, Nature and Beginning”, Journal of East African Studies, vol. 14, no. 3 (July 2020).
The team reported in September 2020 that Mohamed Ahmed “Qahiye”, known by regional intelligence sources in East Africa as a military trainer, had passed through Ethiopia on his way to Cabo Delgado. [fn]“Report of the UN Panel of Experts on Somalia”, S/2020/949, 28 September 2020. Crisis Group interviews, Kenyan and Ethiopian intelligence sources, Nairobi, November 2020. Hide Footnote While the UN investigators did not provide further details, regional intelligence and diplomatic sources suspect that Qahiye went to train fighters in Mozambique. [fn]Crisis Group interviews, regional intelligence sources, Nairobi, April 2021. Those sources point to this Puntland ISIS affiliate’s role in trafficking weapons between Yemen and Puntland on the same oceangoing dhows plying the waters down the East African coast as a reason to suspect that it could have a role in logistical support for militants in Cabo Delgado.
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In the first instance, scuffles broke out between them and local leaders, as they became even pushier, for example by attempting to impose bans on alcohol, disrupting prayers at mosques, forcing women to wear the niqab or burqa and preventing women from working outside the home. [fn]Morier-Genoud, “The Jihadi Insurgency in Mozambique”, op. Hide Footnote As they clashed with local government and religious officials, the state began to fight back. Security forces arrested groups of youths and closed their prayer houses. [fn]Crisis Group interview, Frelimo elder, Pemba, February 2021. Hide Footnote By 2016, sources in Cabo Delgado were reporting armed elements establishing a presence in remote parts of Mocímboa da Praia district.
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See Annexes 1. 7, 3. 1 and 6. 1 of the “Somalia Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea Submitted in Accordance with Resolution 2060 (2012)”, S/2013/413, 12 July 2013. See also “Snapping Back Against Iran: The Case of the Al Bari 2 and the UN Arms Embargo”, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, December 2020. Hide Footnote Meanwhile, fighters of several other nationalities are known to be embedded in Cabo Delgado’s militant ranks. Eyewitnesses who have escaped or been released from militant bases in Cabo Delgado report seeing other foreigners in camp, including fighters with fair skin, and in one case, blue eyes.
Hide Footnote Humanitarian workers and many civilians abandoned the town. [fn]“MSF pulls out of Macomia and Mocímboa da Praia following attacks”, Zitamar News, 5 June 2020. Hide Footnote Government security forces attacked al-Shabab positions days later and again in mid-June, with officials reporting dozens of militants killed. [fn]See “Mozambique: Armed forces responding ‘firmly and courageously’ – Nyusi”, AllAfrica, 1 June 2020, for details of the late May attack on al-Shabab. Government attacks on al-Shabab positions took place on 14 and 20 June, according to a database of attack data produced by a Mozambique-based diplomat, reviewed by Crisis Group. Hide Footnote The militants would, however, rebound again. In late June, al-Shabab fighters launched a multi-pronged raid on the port town of Mocímboa da Praia, attacking government and police buildings and killing civilians and security force personnel.
Hide Footnote Dependent at first on AK-47 rifles and the occasional PKM machine gun, they have now acquired racks of RPG-7 rocket launchers and several 60mm and 82mm mortar firing systems, as well as the occasional government vehicle, mostly from looting security forces. [fn]Confidential private security briefing, August 2020.
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[fn]Crisis Group interviews, security sources who have debriefed civilians released from militant camps, December 2020 and March 2021. Crisis Group interview, person in contact with militant cells in South Africa, Pretoria, February 2021. Hide Footnote Security sources are divided over whether these men could be from Arabic-speaking countries or from the Caucasus, but establishing who and how numerous they are has not been possible. South African law enforcement officers say they are pursuing several leads relating to South African nationals, and other Africans passing through South Africa, who may have established links with al-Shabab in Cabo Delgado. [fn]Crisis Group interviews, South African criminal intelligence investigator, Pretoria, December 2020 and February 2021. Hide Footnote Counter-terrorism experts and policymakers claim that it is through these foreign links that ISIS is most likely to exert influence.
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Hide Footnote After security forces and Dyck hit a militant base in Mocímboa da Praia district in February 2021, many in the private security industry speculated that the militants would struggle to recover. [fn]Crisis Group interviews, private security analysts, Maputo, February 2021. Crisis Group telephone interviews, regional intelligence analysts, February 2021. Hide Footnote But the militants geared up operations in the north, drawing from their bases on the Tanzanian border. They began raiding the environs north of Palma town. The raids sent waves of terror through the civilian population, thousands of whom fled the district as food supplies reached critically low levels due to lack of secure road access.
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Tanzanians and other foreigners have joined up, fuelling the insurrection. The country’s historically weak security forces have been unable to stem the onslaught. Why does it matter? Unaddressed, the insurrection could spread further, threatening national stability just as Mozambique is fulfilling a peace deal with the country’s main opposition group and heading into national elections in 2024. It could worsen instability along East Africa’s coast and present ISIS with a new front to exploit. What should be done? Maputo should accept targeted assistance for security operations to contain the insurrection, and avoid a heavy external deployment that could lead to a quagmire.
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Such operations should focus on stopping attempts by individuals to finance, train or provide new technologies to al-Shabab. Their success will require Mozambique and Tanzania in particular to share information with their international partners about al-Shabab networks that have been operating across their borders. After more than three years of violence in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique and its regional partners are gearing up to respond together to the threat. They are right to put their heads together.
It grew close to the Frelimo leadership under President Machel, who had earlier seen Islam as anathema to his development ideology. Cislamo became an important ally of the ruling party, which began looking to cement ties with Muslims for political reasons. Frelimo leaders warmed to the Council also because they saw it as representing a modernising vein of Islam, based on Arabic literacy. Crisis Group interview, Frelimo central committee member, Maputo, March 2021. See also Liazzat J.
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