ISIS Affiliate In Mozambique Riding a ‘Wave of Momentum’
New attacks are shutting down LNG production as Al Sunnah strengthens ties with the larger group.
A violent Islamic extremist group is “riding a wave of momentum” in sub-Saharan Africa, cementing ties with ISIS and posing a greater challenge to governments there, say analysts and U.S. officials.
On March 1, the U.S. State Department designated Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah — Al-Sunna for short — as a terrorist organization and formally linked them to ISIS. That followed months of increased activity in Mozambique and its environs, according to a Jan. 21 report from Babel Street. In August, the group attacked the city of Mocímboa da Praia. In early January, its operations in the Afungi peninsula forced the evacuation of liquid natural gas facilities of a company called Total.
“Insurgent activity has continued throughout the region, with Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah,” the report said, “increasingly targeting lines of communication and overrunning government outposts.”
Last June, Babel Street noted that Al-Sunna was working hard to get ISIS’s attention in a bid to access the larger group’s resources and communication channels. Since then, ISIS’ “involvement in the current conflict has become clearer,” Babel Street says. “Both the local insurgents and the Islamic State appear to be attempting to make connections with each other. Media statements in Amaq [ISIS Communication channels] plus insurgents’ use of the Islamic State flag, among other indications, point to a stronger connection—at least in terms of ideology and goals if not in logistical and operational support.”
“It was a little ambiguous” months ago, said McDaniel Wicker, Babel Street's vice president of strategy. “It became clear that there is a tie with the Islamic state in particular,” as opposed to other groups, like Al Qaeda, which was also taking credit for al-Sunna’s activities. Wicker said it remains unclear whether ISIS is providing much by way of material support, adding that a better understanding of illicit cash and money exchanges could reveal those connections.
Colin P. Clarke, the director of policy and research at The Soufan Group, a global intelligence and security consultancy, said, “ISIS affiliates throughout Sub-Saharan Africa have seized, and are riding a wave of momentum that its affiliates elsewhere are not currently enjoying. I think with the recent designation of several ISIS affiliates in Africa, the Biden administration recognizes the challenge posed by these groups, and is working to counter them before the threat metastasizes further.”
Jacob Zenn, a researcher at Georgetown and fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, said, “here are frequent communications between ISIS and ISIS-Moz/Al Sunna, which should not be doubted. But the curious question is why—although Al Sunna does not appear to be facing military setbacks as of late--it has reduced its propaganda output through ISIS media channels over the past weeks.” Zenn said that Al Sunna may be looking to temporarily lower its profile as the United States reaches out to better coordinate with allies in Africa and in the wake of the State Department’s terrorist designation.