Ahl-e-Sunnat wal Jamaat
Since 2017, a largely domestic terrorist group that has aligned itself with ISIS has carried out at least 75 separate attacks in eight northern districts of Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province – Ancuabe, Ibo, Macomia, Meluco, Mocimboa da Praia, Nangade, Palma, and Quissanga. These attacks have led to at least 150 civilian deaths and the reported internal displacement of several thousand citizens.
Locals originally referred to the group as “al-Shabaab” – a name that in local parlance was intended to mean “the youth” and which does not appear to convey a link between this group and the Somali-based group with the same name. Independent local media outlets and academics have begun referring to the group as Ahl-e-Sunnat wal Jamaat, meaning “Followers of the Sunni Tradition and Unity,” the name some group members appear to use to describe themselves.
The group’s leaders have linkages with like-minded terrorist groups in East Africa. In 2018, the terrorist group shifted its focus to small, remote villages in an effort to minimize direct conflict with government security forces. With limited exceptions, the group conducted nearly weekly attacks on rural villages in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province. The attacks varied in intensity and scale, but generally included the use of firearms, edged weapons (e.g. machetes and other metal objects), or arson, and often included the theft of food and other basic supplies. These attacks frequently included beheadings and kidnappings.
On May 20, attackers fired on a passenger bus, killing one. The bus was traveling between Nampula City and Mocimboa da Praia along National Highway 1, the main north-south route running nearly the entire length of Mozambique’s coast.
On May 27, suspected members of the group carried out an attack in the village of Monjane, 45 kilometers south of the regional hub of Palma. Observers reported that a group of five armed men clad in civilian robes with turbans obscuring their faces kidnapped between five and 10 people, including two children. The victims were subsequently found beheaded.
On November 22, terrorists reportedly killed 12 people, including women and children, in Chicuaia Velha. The attackers set fire to as many as 40 homes, with unconfirmed reports that some victims burned to death.
On November 27, a group of suspected terrorists armed with AK-47s and machetes, reportedly killed one civilian and injured another in The group also set fire to 14 informal retail stalls, stealing some goods prior to the arson.
The frequency of attacks, including beheadings, the razing of villages and clashes with security forces, was growing, with around 16 so far in January 2020. South Africa's International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor said that attacks by militants affiliated with the Islamic State in neighboring Mozambique were cause for concern. History has shown that poorer regions are most vulnerable to violent external incursions as material incentives are easily disbursed to attract young people to these negative activities.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: On August 3, the Mozambique president announced the approval of additional counterterrorism legislation under a new law, the Legal Regime for Repression and Combating Terrorism. The law adds articles to the penal code that provides for the punishment of anyone committing, planning, or participating in terrorist acts, as well as for those who provide or receive training for terrorist purposes. It also stipulates punishment for individuals who travel or attempt to travel to join a terrorist organization, as well as those who facilitate such travel. An ongoing counterterrorism trial of more than 189 defendants – held in an improvised court in Cabo Delgado and closed to the media – is seen as the first test of the new law. Many of these defendants were later acquitted.
Mozambique lacks a counterterrorism strategy or national action plan, and as a result, the response to terrorist threats has been primarily focused on security and ad hoc. The government reports that in its operations in Cabo Delgado, military units and elements of the national police coordinate through a joint headquarters that de-conflicts government interventions and facilitates the transfer of detainees to police control. A more formalized working group is in development, which would provide more consistent and comprehensive information sharing. On 01 February 2020 Exxon Mobil Corp. and Total asked Mozambique to send more troops to defend their operations in the far north after a string of attacks by Islamic militants. Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado is home to one of the world’s largest gas discoveries in the past decade, and both oil majors are working on massive LNG projects. At that time there were about 500 troops in the region and the companies wanted another 300.
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