Islamist insurgency in Mozambique

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Islamist insurgency in Mozambique
Part of the War on Terror
Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.svg
Cabo Delgado Province
Date5 October 2017 – present
(2 years, 5 months and 4 weeks)
11°21′S 40°20′E / 11.350°S 40.333°E / -11.350; 40.333
Status Ongoing
Supported by:
Ansar al-Sunna
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant[3] (denied by Mozambican government)[4]
Supported by:
Organized crime[5]
Foreign sympathizers[5]
Commanders and leaders
Filipe Nyusi
Atanasio M'tumuke
Bernadino Rafael[6]
Abdul Rahmin Faizal (POW)[7][6]
Abdul Remane[7]
Abdul Raim[7]
Nuno Remane[7]
Ibn Omar[7]
Abdul Aziz[6]
Units involved

Mozambiquan security forces

Wagner Group

Various Ansar al-Sunna cells


11,200 (total)[10]
200 Wagner personnel[11]
Casualties and losses
Dozens killed and wounded
Seven Wagner personnel killed[11]
Dozens killed
470+ arrested[a]

83+ civilians killed

Total: 600+ killed (2019)[12]
a 314 Mozambicans, 52 Tanzanians, 3 Ugandans, 1 Somali and 100 unknown.[13]

The Islamist insurgency in Mozambique is an ongoing conflict in Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique, between Islamist militants attempting to establish an Islamic state in the region, and Mozambican security forces. Civilians have been the main targets of attacks by Islamist militants.[14] The main insurgent faction is Ansar al-Sunna, a native extremist faction with tenuous international connections. From mid-2018, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has allegedly become active in northern Mozambique as well,[3] and claimed its first attack against Mozambican security forces in June 2019.[9]

Ansar al-Sunna (English: Supporters of the tradition) is similar to the name of an Iraqi Sunni insurgent group that fought against US troops between 2003 and 2007. Locals call them "al-Shabaab" but they are a separate organization from Somali al-Shabaab.[15] The militants are known to speak Portuguese, the official language of Mozambique, Kimwane, the local language, and Swahili, the language spoken in the Great Lakes region. Reports also state that members are mostly Mozambicans from Mocimboa da Praia, Palma and Macomia districts, but also include foreign nationals from Tanzania and Somalia.[16]


Ansar al-Sunna, also known by its original name "Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamo" (translated "adepts of the prophetic tradition"), was initially a religious movement in northern districts of Cabo Delgado[8] which first appeared around 2015. It was formed by followers of the radical Kenyan cleric Aboud Rogo, who was killed in 2012. Thereafter, some of members of his movement settled down in Kibiti, Tanzania, before moving into Mozambique.[17]

Ansar al-Sunna claims that Islam as practised in Mozambique has been corrupted and no longer follows the teachings of Muhammad. The movement's members consequently entered traditional mosques with weapons in order to threaten others to follow their own radical beliefs.[8] The movement is also anti-Christian and anti-Western, and has tried to prevent people from attending hospitals or schools which it considers secular and anti-Islamic.[5][18] This behavior alienated much of the local population instead of converting them to Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamo, so that the movement's members broke away and formed their own places of worship.[18] Over time, the group became increasingly violent: It called for Sharia law to implemented in the country,[5] no longer recognized the Mozambican government, and started to form hidden camps in Macomia District, Mocímboa da Praia District, and Montepuez District. There, Ansar al-Sunna militants were trained by ex-policemen, and ex-frontier guards who had been fired and held grudges against the government. The movement also contacted other Islamist militants in East Africa, and reportedly hired al-Shabaab trainers from Somalia, Tanzania, and Kenya. These al-Shabaab trainers acted as mercenaries, however, and aided Ansar al-Sunna not out of actual connections between al-Shabaab and Ansar al-Sunna, but due to the pay they received from the latter.[8] Some of the Ansar al-Sunna militants have also journeyed abroad to receive direct training by other militant groups.[18]

The militants are not unified, but split into different cells which do not appear to much coordinate their actions.[18] By August 2018, the Mozambiquan police had identified six men as leaders of the militants in Cabo Delgado: Abdul Faizal, Abdul Raim, Abdul Remane, Ibn Omar, "Salimo", and Nuno Remane.[7] Ansar al-Sunna funds itself through heroin, contraband and ivory trade.[5]

While religion does play a fundamental role in the conflict, analysts believe the most important factors in the insurgency are widespread social, economic and political problems in Mozambique. Unemployment and especially youth unemployment are considered the main causes for locals to join the Islamist rebels. Increasing inequalities have led many young people to be easily attracted by such a radical movement,[19][8][18][17] as Ansar al-Sunna promises that its form of Islam will act as "antidote" to the existing "corrupt, elitist rule".[7]

Violence and arrests


  • On 5 October, a pre-dawn raid targeted 3 police stations in the town of Mocímboa da Praia. It was led by 30 armed members, who killed 17 people, including two police officers and a community leader. 14 of the perpetrators were captured. During this brief occupation of Mocímboa da Praia, the perpetrators stole firearms and ammunition and told residents that they reject state health and education, and refused to pay taxes. The group is said to be affiliated with Al-Shabaab, the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist extremist group situated and operating in mostly the southern regions of Somalia.[20]
  • On 10 October, police detained 52 suspects in relation to the attack on 5 October.[21]
  • On 21 October, a pre-dawn skirmish took place between the group and government forces in the fishing village of Maluku, approximately 30 kilometres (19 mi) from Mocímboa da Praia. As a result, many locals fled the village.[22]
  • On 22 October, further skirmishes occurred near Columbe village, about 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) south of an installation of Anadarko Petroleum.[22]
  • On 27 October 2017, the Mozambican police confirmed the arrest of 100 more members of the group, included foreigners, in relation to the attack on 5 October.[23]
  • On 24 November, in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, the government ordered the closure of three mosques located in Pemba and in the neighbourhoods of Cariaco, Alto Gigone and Chiuba, which were believed to have a connection with Islamic fundamentalism.[24]
  • On 29 November, the group attacked the villages of Mitumbate and Maculo, injuring two and killing at least two people. The two deaths were by decapitation and death by burning. According to local authorities, the terrorists also destroyed a church and 27 homes.[25]
  • On 4 December, the district government of Moçímboa da Praia in northern Mozambique named two men, Nuro Adremane and Jafar Alawi, as suspected of organising the attacks by an armed group against the police in October. Both men were Mozambican nationals. The district government stated that both men studied Islam in Tanzania, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, where they allegedly also received military training.[26]
  • On 17 December, a successful assassination attempt was committed on the National Director of Reconnaissance of the Police Rapid Intervention Unit.[27]
  • On 26 December, Police Spokesman Inacio Dino announced the commencement of counter-insurgency operations in the forests surrounding Mutumbate, in Cabo Delgado province. Since the amnesty for surrendering expired, stated that 36 Tanzanian citizens would be targeted by the operations.[28]
  • On 29 December, the independent Mozambican newspaper "O Pais" reported that Mozambican paratroopers and marines attacked the village of Mitumbate via air and sea, regarding it as a stronghold for the insurgents. The aftermath of the attack left 50 dead, including women and children, and an unknown number injured.[29]


  • On 3 January, Mozambican police announced that these attacks were classified as acts of terrorism.[30]
  • On 13 January, a group of terrorists entered the town of Olumbi in the Palma district around 8pm and fired into a market and a government administrative building, killing 5.[31]
  • On 28 January, a video appeared on social media showing six Islamist extremists dressed in civilian clothing and appealing to Mozambicans to join them in the fight for the values of Islamic doctrine and to establish Islamic law. The video was in both Portuguese and Arabic.[32]
  • On 12 March, Radio Moçambique reported that an armed group attacked the village of Chitolo. Burning down 50 homes and killing residents in the process.[33]
  • On 21 March, residents of the village of Manilha abandoned their homes after witnessing armed men carrying out attacks in the surrounding area on the banks of the river Quinhevo.[34]
  • On 20, 21 and 22 April the group attacked the villages of Diaca Velha, near the boundary with Nangade district as well as the village of Mangwaza in the Palma district. Looting houses, burning four houses and killing one person and taking three hostages. However pursuit operations were launched on 22 April by Mozambican security personnel capturing 30 jihadist in the process.[35] Meanwhile, a South African newspaper reported that about 90 militants belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant had infiltrated northern Mozambique, citing unnamed intelligence sources. The Mozambican government promptly denied this report as baseless.[4] Nevertheless, the Africa Union reported in May that it had confirmed the presence of ISIL forces in Mozambique.[3]
  • On 27 May, ten people, including children, were beheaded in the village of Monjane in the Palma district of Cabo Delgado province. Locals attribute the violence to al-Shabab, a terrorist group founded in 2015 (no relation to the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab).[36] Twelve days later, the U.S. Embassy in Mozambique warned American citizens to leave the district headquarters of Palma, citing a risk of another imminent attack.[37]
  • On 3 June, five civilians were decapitated in an attack on the village of Rueia in the Macomia district.[38]
  • On 5 June, six men armed with machetes and guns killed seven people and injured four others and set dozens of homes on fire in the village of Naunde in the Macomia district.[38][39][40]
  • On 6 June, at least six people were killed and two seriously injured when terrorists armed with knives and machetes attacked the village of Namaluco in the Quissanga district. The assailants also burned down a hundred houses.[41]
  • On 11 June, terrorists armed with machetes and firearms attacked the village of Changa in the Nangade district in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, killing four people. The attackers also burned down several houses.[42]
  • On 12 June,a group of armed men attacked the village of Nathuko in the Macomia district in the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado. The terrorists decapitated a villager, burned down several houses and killed all the animals.[43]
  • On 21 September, 12 people were killed, 15 injured, and 55 houses were burned by jihadists in the village of Paqueue in the province of Cabo Delgado. 10 of the victims were shot to death and 2 were burned to death, with at least one of the victims being decapitated post-mortum.[44]
  • On 3 November, suspected Ansar al Sunna insurgents looted houses and set on fire at least 45 houses in an isolated village in the Macomia District, no casualties were reported in the incident.[45][46]
  • On 7 December 30-year-old Mustafa Suale Machinga was captured by local residents and referred to authorities in Litingina village in Nangade Districtin Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province. Machinga a former member of the Mozambican armed forces was captured after being accused by residents of leading the group responsible for Islamist militant-inspired attacks in the zone.[47]


Satellite image of Cyclone Kenneth approaching the Mozambique on 25 April
  • Sometime in January or early February 2019, security forces captured Abdul Rahmin Faizal, a suspected insurgent leader of Ugandan nationality.[6]
  • On 8 February, Islamist fighters attacked Piqueue village in Cabo Delgado, killing and dismembering seven men, and kidnapping four women.[48]
  • After Cyclone Kenneth hit Mozambique on 25 April, resulting in much devastation, the rebels initially halted their attacks. On 3 May, however, they struck once again by destroying the village of Nacate, Macomia District, killing six civilians. In the following weeks, the Islamists increased their attacks, raiding and burning several villages such as Ntapuala and Banga-Vieja in Macomia District, as well as Ida and Ipho in Meluco District. They also carried out ambushes, and told locals to abandon their homes. At least two attacks targeted workers of Anadarko Petroleum, a United States-headquartered hydrocarbon exploration company.[49]
  • On 4 June, ISIL claimed that its "Central Africa Province" branch had carried out a successful attack on the Mozambican Army at Mitopy in the Mocímboa da Praia District.[9] At least 16 people were killed and about 12 wounded during the attack. By this point, ISIL considered Ansar al-Sunna as one its affiliates, though how many Islamist rebels in Mozambique are actually loyal to ISIL remains unclear.[2]
  • On 3 July, an attack by Islamists in Nangade District killed seven people, including civilians and a policeman. On 6 July ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack.[50]
  • On 25 September, Russian military hardware, namely two Mi-17 helicopters, was delivered via a Russian Air Force An-124 (registration RA-82038) transport aeroplane which landed at Nacala.[51] The Russian and Mozambican governments had previously signed an agreement on military and technical cooperation in late January 2017.[1]
  • In October, the Mozambican military announced that it had detained 34 individuals traveling from Nampula to Cabo Delgado who are suspected of trying join the ISIL-affiliated insurgent group.[52] In the same month, seven Russian mercenaries and defense contractors from the Wagner Group and 20 Mozambican soldiers were reportedly killed by rebels in Cabo Delgado Province during two ambushes. The attacks were attributed to the Islamic State's Central Africa Province.[53]
  • In November, a number of government troops and 5 fighters from the Russian mercenary Wagner Group were killed in an ambush, with ISIL claiming responsibility for the attack.[54][55]


Limits on media freedom

There is a lack of access reliable information in the region due to journalists being intimidated by government and military personnel. On 5 January 2019, Mozambican authorities also unlawfully detained journalist Amade Abubacar who had reported on the insurgency. He was subsequently subjected to torture, and only released on bail after 107 days in detention.[57]



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Works cited

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