A Mozambican soldier provide security before the arrival of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a technical school in Maluana, Mozambique, Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Mozambican soldier provide security before the arrival of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a technical school in Maluana, Mozambique, Thursday, July 7, 2016 AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam

Mozambique Is Emerging As The Next Islamic Extremist Hotspot

A terror group affiliated with the Islamic State has been stepping up tactics and claiming bigger targets.

An Islamist terror group in Mozambique is staging increasingly sophisticated and destructive attacks on oil facilities and government targets this year. Its connections with Islamic State may be growing tighter, according to a report published Monday by data analytics company Babel Street.

The attacks are part of a three-year uprising in the country that has turned markedly more violent this year. Already, 447 people have died in attacks in 2020, a faster pace than last year, which saw 660 deaths in 309 attacks, the Babel Street report said, citing the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project.

Tactics recently used by the terror group, called Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah, suggest a growing relationship with the Islamic State and other terror groups. These include launching small drones for position scouting, displaying Islamic State flags during attacks, beheading victims, and kidnapping girls in the model of Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Babel Street report said.

As well, Islamic State representatives have taken credit for some attacks in the country, as on April 10, when the private security company Dyck Advisor Group lost a helicopter.

In May, Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah captured a Yanjing armored vehicle from Mozambican security forces. On June 27, ISIS took credit for the attack through their Amaq News Agency via Telegram, said Babel Street. “We also saw that the insurgents used some high-powered weapons — 73mm recoilless rifle and 82mm mortars — for the first time, further signs of increasing intensity and expertise within the group,” said Eric Swanfeldt, an International Senior Solutions Specialist at Babel Street.

Babel Street draws on a variety of sources, including local media vetted by the IntelCenter database of terrorist activity, message boards, blogs, social media, Telegram channels. 

Relatively little is known about Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah, which does not appear to produce, say, video recruiting ads. The group began to claim affiliation with ISIS not long after their 2017 emergence. More recently, Al Qaeda has been taking credit for the group’s work — but it’s not clear whether they deserve it.

Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah is “not self-promoting so it does make it difficult to report on the situation,” Swanfeldt said.

Mark R. Quantock, a retired Army major general who is Babel Street’s executive vice president for strategic accounts, said that the terror group’s growing prowess could transform Mozambique into a new haven for extremists. “We certainly have, from a global perspective, equities and interests in making sure that the cancer that is Islamic extremism, that is ISIS, doesn’t grip any particular place…that would not be helpful to the U.S. or our allies or that portion of Africa,” he said. 

The United States. currently has no large military presence in Mozambique. But it did deploy nearly 100 U.S. troops from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa to help the government with relief efforts after Cyclone Idai last year.

“The situation in Mozambique is one that is being monitored,” said Col. Christopher Karns, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command. 

“Africa continues to be a place where groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda seek to regenerate and look for opportunity to demonstrate resiliency,” Karns said. “The Islamic State-affiliated activity in Mozambique is more visible with increased claims of attacks. The situation and techniques employed are certainly not unique to Mozambique.”

Islamic State affiliates often target youth in local communities, particularly those that are impoverished, where the group can offer access to resources. “The signs of the Islamic State seeking to build local legitimacy while undermining government is present as they seek to intimidate and provide alternate options to the government,” Karns said. 

Russia, too, is present in the region, deploying state-sponsored private military contractors in at least 16 African nations. “Russia is a country that certainly seeks access to Mozambique’s natural resources to include oil, natural, gas and coal, as well,” Karns said. Russia may be stepping into position to provide more security assistance to countries like Mozambique in exchange for contractual access to raw materials, ”which can undermine our partners’ capacity for economic development.”

He said the Wagner mercenary group has also been active in Mozambique. “Wherever Wagner is employed, Russia seems to want to mask their direct role. Russia’s exploitative military and economic partnerships in Africa, often pursued through unofficial actors, remain a concern.”