Maputo — Former policemen, expelled from the Mozambican police force, have been assisting islamist insurgents in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, according to a report in Monday's issue of the independent newssheet Mediafax.
The paper quotes research undertaken by two respected independent bodies, the Institute of Economic and Social Studies (IESE) and the Civil Society Support Mechanism (MASC), which makes the alarming claim that the islamists have training bases both inside and outside the country.
The study confirms that the group arose in the northern districts of Cabo Delgado first as a religious group, but as from 2015 it began to include military cells.
Initially the group called itself Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama, which means adepts of the prophetic tradition. They believed that the Islam practised by the orthodox mosques in Mozambique was degenerate, and had deviated from the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed.
The IESE and MASC researchers (Saide Habibe, Salvador Forquilha and Joao Pereira) found that the group claimed to be restoring the traditional values of Islam. Because they believed Mozambican Islam to be a decadent form of the religion, they would enter mosques wearing shoes and carrying knives and similar weapons - an attitude that shocks orthodox Muslims. Eventually, they broke away entirely, and set up their own places of worship.
They called for the imposition of Sharia law, and refused to recognise the structures of the Mozambican state.
The study's sources said that the group has training camps in the Cabo Delgado districts of Mocimboa da Praia, Macomia and Montepuez. In Mocimboa da Praia, where the group staged its first attacks against police installations on 5 October last year, they are using the back yards of houses owned by their leaders.
Outside the country, they are supposedly trained by militias in the Great Lakes region, and also at Kibiti in Tanzania.
Domestically, the study says, they have been trained by agents of the Mozambican police who have been expelled from the force, and agents of the frontier guards.
As for training outside the country, the study says the militia chiefs were hired by the Al Shabaab network in Tanzania, Kenya and Somalia to train recruits from northern Mozambique. In payment, the militia chiefs receive money.
Local people in Cabo Delgado call the group Al Shabaab - apparently not because of any connections with the Somali terrorist organisation of that name, but because Al Shaaab means the Youth in Arabic, and the group mainly consists of young muslims from Mocimboa da Praia.