One of Africa’s most under-discussed examples of domestic terrorism has been rekindled in Mozambique after Islamic jihadi insurgents took over the country’s oil-rich northern town of Mocimboa da Praia.
On Wednesday, local media said the Islamic State-linked terrorist group had seized the town, sacking government forces, many of whom had to flee on boats. The recent development is seen as the culmination of months of progress in incursions into the northern region of Mozambique.
The BBC reports that tens of thousands of people have also fled their homes. More than 1,000 people have been killed since the terrorists took an interest in the offshore gas reserves.
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According to state defense forces, efforts “are ongoing actions to neutralize the terrorists that are using populations in the affected areas as shields.”
A short history on expensive fields
Mocimboa da Praia is about 50 miles from the Afungi peninsula in the northern city of Cabo Delgado. The peninsula is one of Africa’s most fossil fuel-endowed regions boasting among its extractors, the French company Total as well as the American ExxonMobil.
The oil and gas industry in the Afungi peninsula which began only about a decade-and-half ago is now estimated at over $45 billion. Annually, over 10 million tonnes of liquified gas is exported from Afungi.
But since October 2017, the anomalous terrorist group in northern Mozambique has been mounting guerrilla attacks against businesses and people in that part of the country. Almost 200 of these attacks have been reported in the last three years.
The group is not well-known and neither is southern Africa known as a hotbed for Islamic terrorism.
But the Institute of Social and Economic Studies in Maputo in 2019, revealed a study titled, “Islamic Radicalisation in Northern Mozambique: The Case of Mocímboa da Praia” to explain the nature of the problem. The report said:
“At first, the group’s members were mainly young people from Mocímboa da Praia, but their leaders had links with certain religious and military circles – fundamentalist Islamic cells in Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia and the Great Lakes region.”
What started as a negligible religious group in 2014 has now grown into a first-rate national security threat.
The study added that the more established Al-Shabaab group “gave young recruits from Mocímboa da Praia and other districts a sense of security, support and community – they satisfied the youth’s emotional needs.”
The potential for Praia’s terrorist group to devolve into a much worse foe is not lost on countries in the eastern and southern parts of the continent. Tanzania, a northern neighbor of Mozambique, has already resolved to launch attacks against the organization on its southern border.