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The capture of the city of Palma by Islamist terrorists on Saturday demonstrates the scale of the security challenges facing Mozambique. For several years, the north of the country has been confronted with particularly active armed groups. What do we know about these jihadists known locally as "al-Shabab"? Response element. </p><div> <p>The armed Islamists who seized the city of Palma on Saturday March 27, just ten kilometers from a multibillion-euro gas megaproject piloted by the French group Total, have been sowing terror for more than three years in the north. eastern Mozambique.
October 2017, around thirty armed men launched a raid at dawn against three police stations in Mocimboa da Praia, a port city in the province of Cabo Delgado, bordering Tanzania, and predominantly Muslim.
“It was thought that they wanted to release their comrades accused of belonging to a radical religious sect calling on the population to disobey the laws,” an imam who told his anonymity told AFP in late 2020.
It is in fact the start of a bloody jihadist guerrilla warfare that continues to ravage the province, forcing to date more than 670,000 people from their homes, according to the UN, and killing at least 2,600, including more than half of civilians, according to the NGO Acled.
Fishing versus gas exploitation
The movement was born around 2007, around a group called Ansaru-Sunna which is building new mosques adopting a rigorous Islam, according to Eric Morier-Genoud, professor of African history in Belfast.
The local authorities then underestimate their nuisance capacity, which also feeds on the disappointments of offshore gas exports, which even before having started, drives out inhabitants from their villages and their fishing grounds.
Today, the Afungi peninsula, the nerve center of gas installations which represent one of the largest investments in Africa and in which the French group Total participates in particular, “is a secure bubble, a sort of besieged Fort Apache”, emphasizes a French security expert.
To read on France 24: In Mozambique, attacks by jihadists affiliated with the ISE worry southern Africa
On Wednesday, the armed groups launched a major attack on Palma, simultaneously on three fronts, the same day Total announced the resumption of work on the gas exploitation site, supposed to be operational in 2024.
The city fell into their hands on Saturday after three days of fighting. The number of casualties among civilians and combatants remains unknown.
The leaders of these rebels, known locally as “al-shabab” (young people, in Arabic), remain a mystery. But they pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in 2019.
They set fire to many villages, after having looted them, and practice large-scale beheading to terrorize the population. They also kidnap young men and women to increase their ranks.
They control a good part of the coastal zone, including the port of Mocimboa da Praia, taken in August 2020, crucial for the arrival of the material necessary for the gas installations.
The struggling army
Poorly equipped and poorly trained, the army at first seemed overwhelmed in this southern African country independent from Portugal in 1975. Mozambique succeeded in its democratic transition almost 30 years ago, at the end of a long and bloody civil war that lasted fifteen years and left a million dead, until a peace agreement in 1992.
Thousands of soldiers have, however, been deployed, leading to a lull in recent months, attributed by the authorities to the military response.
In view of the spectacular operation carried out against Palma, the decline in activity of the Islamists now seems to be more likely attributable to the rainy season, which slows everything down, but also to the preparation of new attacks.
The soldiers are “poorly equipped”, commented for AFP Sergio Chichava, of the University Eduardo Mondlane, in Maputo, and they rely on “weapons of another age”. Washington announced in mid-March the dispatch of US special forces for two months of training.
The authorities have called on a private South African military company, Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), to support the Mozambican security forces, which are also said to be discreetly supported by Russian mercenaries, according to observers.
Source site www.france24.com