Maputo — The governor of the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, Celmira da Silva, has described the attack by armed islamists against the town of Mocimboa da Praia on Thursday as “extremely frightening”.
Visiting the town on Sunday, two days after the police had secured control, Silva stressed that calm had now returned, and everyone should go to work as normal on Monday.
“We need to understand the origin of these groups”, said the governor, cited by Radio Mozambique. “We need to know who they are, what their motives are, and where they came from. Naturally we have some suspects (referring to members of the group captured by the police) and we believe they will be reliable sources of information, so that we have a notion of what we are delaing with, and what their goals are, so that we can avoid speculation”.
“We want to call for a culture of peace”, Silva said. “We want to appeal to the conscience of everyone about the need for the common good that peace is for our people”.
But some residents of Mocimboa da Praia told journalists they had repeatedly warned the authorities of the presence of an islamist group in the district.
Cited in Monday's issue of the independent daily “O Pais”, Amina Aboobacar, a woman from the Mocimboa neighbourhood of Nanduadue, said at meetings with government officials local people warned them of the danger represented by the group, which she referred to by the name “Al-Shabaab”.
“We always warned the government that one day something was going to happen”, she said. “We can't let these things grow. It's better to do something before they grow. They told us ‘OK, OK, we're listening'. And now what we are saying in the meeting has happened”.
The feeling that the authorities should have acted earlier was shared by Sheik Ahumar Alifa, one of the main moslem leaders in Mocimboa da Praia. “We have always presented our concerns about these people of Al-Shabaab, who call themselves moslems”, he said. “It's all up to the government. We have always reported what's been going on”.
“I don't know if the state didn't act because it didn't have proof, but I think they've now come to believe in what we moslems were telling them”, added Alifa.
The mayor of Mocimboa da Praia, Fernando Neves, had also been aware of the “Al-Shabaab” group long before the attack. Asked by “O Pais” why no measures had been taken, he said that when the government identified some foreigners in the group who were calling the authority of the Mozambican state into question, they were repatriated to Tanzania.
One Mocimboa resident, Amade Mussa, confirmed that there had been some elderly traders from Tanzania in the group, but they had all left and nowadays the Mozambican “Al-Shabaab” consists almost entirely of young men from Mocimboa da Praia, with a few from other Cabo Delgado districts.
As for borrowing the name of the Somali terrorist organisation, there are reports that the group also goes by the name “Swahili-Sunah” or “Al-Sunah”. According to Monday's isue of the independent newsheet “Mediafax”, they distinguish themselves from most other Mozambican moslems by wearing turbans, shaving their heads, and cutting their trousers below the knee.
“Mediafax” suggests that the roots of this group lie in the scholarships offered to Mozambicans to study at religious schools in Saudi Arabia and Sudan. The koranic schools where they studied in these country are under the influence of wahabbism, the ultra-conservative brand of Islam that the Saudi regime is trying to export to the rest of the moslem world.
Unlike the offer of scholarships with genuine educatuonal content, these ones were not approved by the Mozambican Education Ministry.