Mozambique insurgency: Islamists scaling up attacks

Islamist insurgents have captured a strategic port in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. The clashes have left thousands of people dead and over 300, 000 displaced. Jane Dutton talks to Paul Fauvet, Editor at the Mozambique News Agency. #eNCA Courtesy #DStv403

MAPUTO - Jihadists in northern Mozambique have stepped up an insurgency aimed at carving out a caliphate in the gas-rich province of Cabo Delgado.

READ: Investors call for intervention in insurgency-hit Mozambique

The campaign has claimed more than 2,400 lives, according to the US-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED) group, which lists 711 attacks since 2017, while at least half a million people have fled their homes, according to the government.

Here is a snapshot of the situation:

- Jihadist drive 

The militants are now present in 10 of the province's 17 districts, according to military sources.

They control swathes of the coast, including the strategic port of Mocimboa da Praia which they seized in August, and have advanced inland towards the district of Mueda, President Felipe Nyusi's birthplace.

The latest known assault targeted Mute, a village located just 20 kilometres (12 miles) from a giant liquefied natural gas (LNG) project on the Afungi peninsula.

The jihadists seized Mute on Monday, but it was retaken on Thursday after two days of intense fighting, according to a military source.

Earlier this month the militants killed at least 25 soldiers in an ambush in Muidumbe district, following a reported massacre there in which according to local media, dozens of people were murdered, some of them beheaded. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an investigation into the reports.

The government is reportedly training specialised troops at home and abroad in what is seen as preparation for "a major offensive to retake Mocímboa da Praia," said Sergio Chichava, a Maputo-based researcher at the Institute for Economic and Social Studies.

- Gas project - 

The LNG project on Afungi is the centrepiece of the government's vision of reaping an energy bonanza from beneath the Indian Ocean. 

The attack on Mute, which lies in a buffer zone between Afungi and Mocimboa da Praia, is the closest yet to the huge scheme.

French energy giant Total, which has signed a $14.9-billion agreement to exploit the gas reserves, says it is "closely monitoring" the situation. 

According to Mozambican sources, the fighting forced Total to temporarily suspend construction work. 

A French security expert on Africa noted in October that the jihadist strategy was to attack "roads and sea lanes" connecting to the Afungi peninsula, which he described as "a secure bubble, a sort of besieged Fort Apache."

- Humanitarian crisis - 

Of the half a million people who have been displaced, 150,000 have gone to Pemba, the provincial capital.

The rest are scattered across the rest of Cabo Delgado and in the neighbouring provinces of Niassa and Nampula.

Previously home to 200,000 people before the crisis, Pemba now has a population of some 350,000, according to a Catholic bishop who visited the city early this month.

The numbers of internally displaced in the province has quadrupled this year alone, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

"The humanitarian situation here in Cabo Delgado, as well as neighbouring provinces of Niassa and Nampula, is really challenging at the moment," Sascha Nlabu, the IOM's operations chief in Mozambique, told AFP in Pemba on Thursday.


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