ISIS-linked jihadis are becoming “more confident” in a new battleground and could soon seize vital oil reserves.
The oil-rich Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique, southern Africa, has witnessed a series of brutal attacks since 2017, with hundreds of thousands displaced.
Locals refer to the armed group as the Machababos or Al Shabaab, but the ISIS-affiliated group calls itself Al-Sunnah Wa Jama'ah.
Back in August, militants temporarily captured the port town of Mocimboa da Praia, in the province of Cabo Delgado, and told locals it would be their new capital.
Last November, Islamist extremists beheaded more than 50 people in the north of the country after turning a football pitch into an “execution ground”.
Terror expert Tore Hamming, PhD in Jihadism and non-resident fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College, says the jihadis have become more brazen in recent years.
He told the Daily Star: “The group has become much more confident, conducting several attacks at the same time and more actively engaging government forces.
“Unless the government manages to assist local IDPs [internally displaced people] there is a great risk that some among them will be attracted by the insurgency.
“Especially if they are able to offer an attractive salary.”
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Amid the chaos, the Government has struggled to exert any kind of control – with the country’s oil reserves vulnerable.
Dr Alex Vines OBE, Director of the Africa Programme at research institute Chatham House, explained: “There are patches of Government control but it’s all very fragile.
“A key part of the problem is the ineffectiveness of the Mozambican military. It was not helped by the kind of head of the army dying of Covid.
“It has as much to do with ineffective Mozambican security forces who have also exacerbated the situation at times by being heavy-handed and therefore provided a ripe area of recruitment.”
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French company Total is currently building an onshore oil installation in the Cabo Delgado province, and jihadis launching a daring attack last December just 13 miles from the project.
Dr Vines warned they are getting “closer and closer”.
The Government has hired private security contractors to protect the reserves and fend off attackers.
However, Dr Vines warned: “It’s not going to resolve the problem long term. The root causes of this are poor governance and poverty and inequality.
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“There’s not a security solution to this, there’s a long term developmental solution.”
Discussing the militants' relationship with ISIS, he explained: "There's still a lot of uncertainty on how tight the connections are. They are definitely linked, but a lot of whats going on in Cabo Delgado is locally driven."
Last month, the UN warned the situation in Cabo Delgado had descended into a “humanitarian crisis”.
Valentin Tapsoba, Director of UNHCR in southern Africa, said: “The international community cannot let the situation continue like this.”
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