West Africa


On 11 October 2018, an article published at Shahada News gave way to speculations that al Shabaab has officially associated the group with the current violence in Northern Mozambique, attributed to cells being referred to as “Shabaab”.


At the time of writing this report there has been no official claim to credit or a statement of association with “Shabaab” cells in Northern Mozambique

Initial attacks in October 2017 introduced al Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamo/Ansar al-Sunna as a group embedded in a geographical confined space seeking an alternative in religious custom and culture in Cabo Delgado. However, since the initial attacks, Shabaab cells remain blurred by the lack of a centrifugal ideology, structure and leadership. An extremist ideology as commonality between the cells cannot be discarded, but the lack of precise information implies that a motivation for attacks remains speculative.

Security Complex of Cabo Delgado

Consequently, Cabo Delgado is presented with three inter-related significant threats:

  • Stigmatisation;
  • Word by Mouth accounts on attacks; and
  • Ever-growing schism between the local population and the Mozambique Government.


Muslims have expressed concerns on unwarranted prosecution in Cabo Delgado.   Coupled to this are the family members of those arrested and accused of involvement or abetting Shabaab cell structures. Consequently, the identification of culprits is reliant on rumour rather than evidence.   

Contact meetings were held with local religious leaders and it was conveyed that the Armed Forces for the Defence of Mozambique (FADM) is regularly targeting and harassing Muslim members of the population. The indiscriminate arrest / detention of large numbers of Muslim members was also lamented and It was furthermore stated that these actions could lead to the affected families joining the extremist group or providing the Militants with food / shelter.

Hearsay leads to accusations, and without a factual informed understanding, these accusations creates suspicions and ultimately a self-survival instinct. Communities tend to search for security in isolating themselves, talking only to those they trust and suspicious of any person, institute or a person in uniform.

Noticeable is a Mozambique government releasing statements on law and order “successes”, setting up of military basis and deployment of soldiers. The need for such actions is not disputed, but what is clearly lacking is an effective communication strategy enabling an informed community on the actual state of affairs. Finger pointing and fear within communities’ inevitable lead to increased aggressive behaviour, the creation of self defence units and kangaroo courts. Those targeted will be based on religion, nationality or suspected family connections. Clearly the Mozambique Government currently lacks such a capacity or is blinded by the importance of “fact talking” as a centrifugal part of its current counter actions in Cabo Delgado. Communities left to their own devices will have low level of tolerance to those viewed as outsiders, be it culprits, NGOs of Humanitarian organization.

Panic stricken communities cannot be left to their own devices in comprehending developments surrounding them.   The situation is to fluid and move into diverse directions to expect local communities to deal with such changes if left in the dark.   

Word by Mouth Accounts

A lack of verified and detailed information on Cabo Delgado, is a result of the security sector releasing blurred statements coupled with media outlets lacking access and resources. This results in the proliferation of unverified or fake information which has a tendency to inflate attacks, beheadings and casualties.

Besides the difficulty of reaching the remote regions that al-Shabaab Cult operate in, the situation is further compounded by limiting a free media to report on attacks.  The Mozambique government has restricted access to some of the affected villages in the Districts of Palma, Nangade, MdP, Macomia and Quissanga. Linked to this is a media clampdown where measures were implemented to control information. According to Amnesty International, the Council of Ministers approved new regulations on media accreditation fees, known as Decree No 40/2018, on 23 July 2018. The decree was signed into law by Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho de Rosário. It is expected to come into effect during August 2018.

The new laws propose an increase in licensing fees for media outlets and journalists. These regulations include compulsory payments of about $35,000 for radio stations to get broadcast licences. Fees for a community station will cost $830. Independent local publications will have to pay $3,300 in fees while operating media companies will have to pay between $34,500 and $69,000 for licences. Registrations fees for new television stations will amount to about $52,000. Foreign correspondents will also not escape the proposed regulations, with a payment of $8,600 required.

During an interview by the contact it was stated to him that they (those interviewed)  firmly believe that the Militant group are ISIS / Foreign nationals, stating that, whenever they come across any foreign national, they would immediately kill him / her. It was stated that, following an engagement with a Militant group in Macomia District in June 2018, 2 x former Ugandan People Defence Force (UPDF) members, a former Brigadier General and a Colonel, were captured and immediately killed. Irrespective the lack of verification, rumours and word by mouth networks facilitate acts of violence, in the name of self-protection

The regulations mean that media freedom in Mozambique will become an expensive commodity, resulting in reporting being more controlled and not necessarily a shared and survival stream to those who need it the most: the people of Cape Delgado.

The relatively little reporting and coverage of the current hostilities in regional and international media is also responsible for the lukewarm response to the crisis by regional and international community at large.  The Mozambican government does not want much International focus on the current instability for fear of scaring off potential investors.

This begs the question: has the Mozambique government truly prioritized attacks in comparison to economic development at all cost?

Schism between the local population and the Mozambique Government

Concerns by local communities relate to the FADM use of unwarranted force feeding feelings of anger and mistrust.

Complaints of unlawful arrests of approximately 400 residents, detention of innocent civilians and absence of due legal processes are prevalent.  There are concerning but unverified references to incidents of rape by both the militants and the Security Forces. According to the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Pemba a total of 249 individuals have officially been charged, 46 of who are Tanzanian Nationals and 18 of the detainees being female.

Excessive use of force could lead to the affected families joining cell structures, refraining from sharing information on cell presence and planned attacks or food and shelter to cell members. Sheikh Saide Habibe, quoted in the Mail & Guardian, warned that: “These young people begin to feel marginalised and seek to gain space, but this space is occupied by traditional leaders, and they find in al-Shabaab an opportunity to be realised. For many of these young people, the group also represents an opportunity to challenge local authorities, an opportunity to build a new social and political order.”

By its own admission, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in Mozambique recent report could not make available exact numbers of communities in Cabo Delgado in need of socio-economic support programmes (food, medicine, shelter). Furthermore, definite impact on internally displaced people as a consequence of violent attacks remains unverified, with the IDMC estimating a conservative number of 2 000. During January 2018, approximately 1 100 families were displaced due to heavy rains. The IDMC report concludes that caution must be applied in attributing IDPs only to attacks by al-Shabaab cells. The need for humanitarian support cannot be ignored with NGOs and aid organisations gaining access to Cabo Delgado to access the actual impact of attacks.

Al Shabaab remains focused on Somalia and Kenya in executing attacks with no indication that is in the process of enabling an Africa wide jihadist network to execute attacks. al Shabaab sustained presence and threat to Somalia is not set to change in the near future aggravated by a Somali government search for political unity with regional leaders, security force struggling in gaining sufficient capacity in countering attack and community discontent with the absence of effective service delivery. Suspected collaboration of security and intelligence officers with al Shabaab, more specifically in Mogadishu, is reflective of a weak security force in countering al Shabaab. The al Shabaab of today is much more than a terrorist organization in Somalia. The group has succeeded in integrating itself into society structures, seeking cooperation with tribal leaders: al Shabaab has become an institutionalized reality in the Somali complex and search for state formation, irrespective the lack of majority support from Somalis.

Is there an Islamist Insurgency in Mozambique?

Simplified comparisons with an Islamist insurgency does not account for the lack of propaganda material or claims by al Sunnah. Defining the group as extremist is reliant on only a few indicators such as foreign influence, a unique dress attire and single video in which calls are made for an offensive jihad. Extremist religious interpretations cannot be categorically denied, but remains one of several scenarios at play within in an environment where organized crime syndicates has a deep seated footprint as well as socio economic frustrations. Pemba and Nacala are access points for the heroin trade into Mozambique and South Africa. The current Mozambique government attempts at countering collusion and organised crime activities could easily have facilitated a more violent reaction in protecting routes.  As stated above, foreign influence cannot be denied. Young Tanzanians are suspected of smuggling weapons from Mozambique into Tanzania. Yet again, there are various possible reasons for the involvement of non-Mozambique residents: protection of organized crime networks -or- Islamist extremism -or- a combination of both. Complicating the search for motivation is the targets of attack. Initial attacks against security forces and government institutions have moved towards local villages. The international oil and gas sector has not been targeted. Motivation remains inconclusive and drum beating an Islamic Insurgency is only presenting a singly hypothesis assumption conveniently skipping the context within which attacks are manifesting.

Evidence of indicators directing towards a definite Islamist extremist insurgency remains hard to pin down, as illustrated in the following graph:



On 08 August 2018, IGP Siro, during his visit to Zanzibar Island, stated in a press conference that “Most Mozambican killers are coming from us.”  He said the National Police Force has fully organized to ensure that the criminals are under control and do not have the opportunity to commit their crime in the country. He specifically states that Tanzania police has evidence indicating that young Tanzanians are behind killings in Northern Mozambique; they are smuggling weapons from Mozambique into Tanzania therefore the Tanzania police force has to be on alert.

The video is often referred to as evidence of foreign influence which is not denied in this report, though to equate such influence with extremism lacks specific and precise evidence.

Another indication of foreign influence is the arrests of suspected Shabaab fighters. Mozambican Authorities claim to already have arrested suspected 470 Shabaab fighters, of which 52 were Tanzanian (11%) and three were Ugandan (0.6%). Members of the group are primarily under the age of 35, have a low level of education and are unemployed. Arguably, the motivation for individuals to join the group stems, among other, from the poor economic situation in Cabo Delgado.

On increased sophistication of attacks an example is skirmishes on 01 October 2018, between suspected fighters and Mozambique soldiers in Narere/Marere, 38km south of Mocímboa da Praia and 50km north of Mucojo, resulted in two fighters being killed and 5 soldiers injured. The fighters were armed with machine guns and attempted to attacks a military camp from where soldiers are deployed to patrol the local area.  The apparent objective of the attacks was to seize arms and logistical supplies.

Hence future scenarios remain open ended:




These scenarios are not mutually exclusive and should be viewed as derived from indicators that cross influences and direct the nature and motivation behind attack.





The article is not an official announcement by al Shabaab on any direct association with the violence in Mozambique. Such an official announcement would most likely be made via the Telegram channel “Al Hijra”, with reference to the Muslim Youth Centre of Kenya. There has been no official claim to credit on any of the attacks in Northern Mozambique or statement in this regard during the preceding 24 hours. 

The article provides a summary of findings by Crisis Group (Managing the Disruptive Aftermath of Somalia’s Worst Terror Attack), in which the al Shabaab threat to East Africa is discussed at great length.

The article makes reference to an article that was published by the Washington Post (As Somalia marks horrific attack, a book explores al-Shabab). This article is focused on findings by a newly released book published on al Shabaab: “Inside al-Shabaab: The Secret History of al-Qaeda’s Most Powerful Ally” (Indiana University Press), by Harun Maruf and Dan Joseph with no reference to an official statement by al Shabaab on Mozambique.

A closer look at the article reveals only one reference to Mozambique:

“In this way,  Al Shabaab adapted to the new security plans so that it has influence today in northern Mozambique. It benefits from the discontent of the people and the injustice of governments and the improved manoeuvring policy of appearance and disappearance and move according to the available freedom and according to the availability of the environment in which it operates.”

The paragraph makes no reference to the attacks by “Shabaab Cells”.


Photo Credit: Pinnacle News (Facebook)


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