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Islamist insurgency intensifies

March 25, 2020

Suspected jihadists have attacked military barracks and surrounded a northern Mozambican town, hoisting their flag close to a major gas exploration site being developed by ExxonMobil and Total.

A street scene in Cabo Delgado
Image: picture-alliance/Design Pics

A pre-dawn attack in Mozambique's northern province of Cabo Delgado on Monday caught the attention of analysts for being more daring than previous assaults. Islamist insurgents reportedly arrived by both sea and land and occupied the district of Mociboa da Praia. The group attacked a defense forces barracks, over which they hoisted their black flag, according to police spokesman Orlando Modumane.

The group raided the local police station and set prisoners free. It also burned houses and destroyed a school. Dozens of people fled to the local hospital and mosques. The insurgents built barricades on the main roads leading to the town. They controlled the municipality's airbase, the port and the police stations for most of the day. Military sources accused them of taking weapons and vehicles.

Dozens of people were wounded during Monday's attack, said General Commander Bernardino Rafael from Mozambique's police. Online journal Moz24 reported that a child, a woman and a man were killed during the incident. The insurgents faced no resistance, according to the report.

However, Rafael claimed that police officers fought "with the evildoers in the town" and advised locals "to keep calm and be vigilant, because the insurgents may want to mix with the population and do harm."

Things get complicated

Mocimboa da Praia is about 350 km (220 miles) from the city of Pemba in Mozambique's northernmost province of Cabo Delgado and is just south of the Afungi peninsula — where billion-dollar gas projects are being developed by ExxonMobil and Total.

The town was until recently the main airport for workers travelling to the site, before a landing strip was built at Afungi. The peninsula's port is also used for cargo deliveries for the projects.

The district central area was first occupied by the jihadist insurgents in October 2017. Police commander Bernardino Rafael last week told reporters that everything was in control. For political analyst Alexandre Chiure, however, the situation in the province is quite alarming.

"With each day that passes, things get more and more complicated," Chiure told DW. "Cabo Delgado has 16 districts and the information we have is that nine of those districts are already affected by these attacks. It's a situation where a solution isn't in sight."

Read more: Mozambicans flee in fear of beheadings in extremist north

The culmination of a tragic failure

Alexandre Chiure underscored President Filipe Nyusi's personal commitment to finding a solution. Nyusi showed willingness to engage in dialogue with the insurgents. The analyst said, however, that the attackers were getting more daring.

"Before, the insurgents attacked remote villages, but this time they got bolder and attacked the [main] village of Mocimboa da Praia," he explained.

Little is known about the group, which has killed more than 300 people and caused hundreds of thousands to flee their villages in Cabo Delgado.

'Untold human suffering'

The escalation of violence in Mocimboa da Praia was described by Amnesty International's deputy director for East and Southern Africa, Muleya Mwananyanda, as "the culmination of a tragic failure by the Mozambican government to protect the people" of the region.

An Amnesty press statement highlighted the three years of "untold human suffering."

Mwananyanda said that the ongoing attacks were aggravated by the government's "ban on journalists, researchers and foreign observers from accessing the area to assess the situation."

Amnesty called for immediate and effective measures to protect the people, the strengthening of legal security measures and the carrying out of investigations to bring the suspects to justice.

Read more: Growing domestic instability or risk of terrorism in Mozambique?