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The Mozambique Islamic militiamen’ leap in quality

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Mozambique

In northern Mozambique, attacks by Islamic militiamen on police stations and villages have intensified. It has been two years that a group calling itself al-Shabab, but which has no connection with the Somali jihadist group of the same name, has carried out bloody actions against the civilian population throughout the country in the past two years. In recent months, however, these attacks have become more aggressive and threaten the entire province of Cabo Delgado.

According to the head of special operations of the US armed forces in Africa, Major General Dagvin Anderson, consulted by the British BBC, these groups would enjoy the support of the Islamic State and this external support would make them more dangerous.

“In the last 12-18 months they have developed a remarkable capacity for action, becoming more aggressive and using guerrilla techniques that are widespread in other parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, and which have often been adopted by the Islamic State,” said general Anderson. “We believe that there are external actors who are influencing these actions and making the situation more virulent and more dangerous”. He added.

If the first attacks were in fact carried out with makeshift means, as knives and machetes, those organized in the spring recorded a leap in quality. The militiamen were equipped with new and efficient automatic weapons. Not only that, but they knew how to use them professionally and effectively. The Catholic bishop of Pemba, Luiz Fernando Lisboa said that these men, who initially traveled with old motorcycles, now have weapons and vehicles and can carry out attacks on large areas.

In March, Islamists briefly took control of the port city of Mocimboa da Praia and then of the important center of Quissanga.The risk is that these militias, which say they want to impose radical Islam in the region, are in fact the cover for drug trafficking and the illegal exploitation of precious stone mines.

The fact that Islamist groups in Mozambique are likely to receive weapons, ammunition, and equipment from the outside is not the only sign that brings them closer to other groups operating on the African continent. Eric Morier-Genoud, a Belfast academic with expertise in Mozambique, points out that there are strong similarities between the evolution of the insurgency in Mozambique and the emergence of Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria.

To assert themselves, these groups exploit local resentments of poverty, the abandonment of local populations by the central government, and the economic backwardness observed in the development of the region.

Once their presence is established, the groups terrorize communities to create a climate of fear but also offer an alternative to frustrated unemployed young people who agree to be drafted.Mozambique, after trying to minimize the threat, has begun to deploy more police and military to better control the region. An operation to also reassure foreign investors who have invested millions of dollars in the exploitation of oil fields in the Northern region.

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