SITUATION UPDATE 6 April, 2021 Back
Situation Update - Islamic State of Mozambique Insurgency
- ISIS-Mozambique attacked the town of Palma in northern Mozambique on 25 March 2021, causing dozens of fatalities and significant damage to the town.
- The continuing insurgency in Cabo Delgado Province poses a significant security, economic, and humanitarian threat to Mozambique and enhances the ability of ISIS-affiliated groups to perform attacks throughout the region.
- ISIS-Mozambique began performing attacks and seizing territory in the Cabo Delgado Province of Mozambique in 2017 and has to date caused approximately 2,400 fatalities and led to the displacement of approximately 670,000 people.
- The U.S. government designated ISIS-Mozambique as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on 10 March, 2021.
- The Mozambican armed forces lack the capabilities to effectively combat ISIS-Mozambique.
- ISIS is using ISIS-Mozambique’s operations as a success story, broadcasting via the Amaq news agency and social media.
On 25 March 2021, ISIS-Mozambique launched an attack on the seaside town of Palma, resulting in numerous fatalities, the displacement of thousands of civilians, the robbery of multiple banks, and significant structural damage. Over 55 deaths were recorded, including foreign nationals. The Mozambican military took 10 days to regain control of Palma from the militants. This attack demonstrated the increasing ability of ISIS-Mozambique—which the U.S. government recently designated as a terrorist group—to perform large-scale, coordinated attacks and contest and hold territory in Cabo Delgado Province in northern Mozambique. ISIS-Mozambique now controls much of Cabo Delgado, directly threatening the security and economic stability of the nation.
The group began insurgent operations in Cabo Delgado in 2017 and gained notoriety in August 2020 with the capture of the port city Mocimboa da Praia. The Mozambican military has conducted several attempts to recapture the city, but has yet to succeed.
Since 2017, the group has been responsible for over 800 attacks on cities and villages in the region, ambushes against police and security force outposts, destruction of clinics and banks, and the deaths of scores of civilians (including a mass beheading). Approximately 2,400 fatalities have resulted from these attacks, and approximately 670,000 civilians have been displaced due to the conflict.
ISIS-Mozambique originated in the Cabo Delgado Province, which is predominantly Muslim and is Mozambique’s poorest province, despite possessing large reserves of natural resources, including oil and natural gas. The group began gradually recruiting frustrated local Islamic youth who felt ignored by the government in 2017 and commenced insurgent operations ten years later.
ISIS-Mozambique has evolved over the years and is known by several different names. Members call themselves Ahl al-Sunnah wa al Jamma'ah or Ansar al-Sunna and locals refer to them as al Al-Shabaab, “the youth,”(not connected to the Somali terrorist group of the same name). In 2019, the group swore allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and joined the Islamic State’s Central Africa Province (IS-CAP) network. Internationally, it is now known as ISIS-Mozambique following recognition and designation as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Government on 10 March 2021.
ISIS-Mozambique’s affiliation with IS-CAP has increased its access to weapons, funding, and training. The group previously primarily used small arms and machetes, but has begun to employ heavy weapons and mortars. Weapons provided to the group typically come from Yemen and travel through the Horn of Africa.
The Mozambican military’s multiple attempts to retake control of lost territory have failed due to increases in militant capabilities and the severe limitations of military forces. The Mozambican government has hired private security forces from the Russian Wagner Group and the Dyck Advisory Group based in South Africa to assist in the fight against ISIS-Mozambique, but these groups have also failed to dislodge ISIS-Mozambique forces and have suffered substantial casualties.
The continuing insurgency in Cabo Delgado Province poses a significant security, economic, and humanitarian threat to Mozambique and enhances the ability of ISIS-affiliated groups to perform attacks throughout the region. ISIS-Mozambique is expanding its ability to hold territory and challenge the Mozambican government and military for territorial control while performing increasingly destructive attacks.
Further territorial expansion is possible based on recent successes and could include other predominantly Muslim territories such as Niassa. ISIS-Mozambique’s ties to other regional ISIS affiliates have increased its access to finances, weapons, and training and could lead to an increase in jihadist violence throughout the region. ISIS has also begun emphasizing the success of the group in its social media postings and discussing the creation of a caliphate in central and eastern Africa, potentially leading to increased global support and the travel of jihadists to join the fight.
ISIS-Mozambique poses a significant threat to Mozambique’s natural gas industry, blocking multiple major construction projects for Liquefied Natural Gas facilities. Three of Africa’s largest natural gas projects are located in Cabo Delgado province with a total value equalling approximately $60 billion.
The French oil company Total suspended construction operations on 1 January 2021 because of an attack near its facility and the deteriorating security situation. These operations have not yet resumed. The completion of these projects is crucial for Mozambique’s economic development and continued disruptions are likely to delay the realization of revenue from extensive natural gas reserves beyond the 2024 target date.