In the past half year, northern Mozambique has seen a stark rise in Islamist terrorism. Critics say the government is playing down the issue in order not to scare off foreign investors.
The most recent attacks were brutal and unexpected. At the beginning of June, a group attacked several villages and spread panic in the middle of the night in the oil and gas-rich Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique. Eyewitnesses reported that the attackers burned down houses and massacred residents. "The total amount of houses burned down is 164. In one of the towns the attackers butchered residents with machetes. 20 people died in total," Zenaida Machado of Human Rights Watch told DW in an interview. She recently visited the affected areas in the predominantly Muslim region.
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Attacks of this kind have occurred repeatedly in the province over the past months. They started in October 2017, when armed attackers entrenched themselves for three days in the city Mocimboa da Praia. A humanitarian crisis is now looming in the area, Machado says.
The attacks seem to be carried out by the same group. It calls itself "Al Shabab", like the radical Islamist terror organization in Somalia. Due to the name, many people assume the group is made up of Islamists from abroad, especially from neighboring Tanzania. Some analysts also believe there are ties to al-Shabab in Somalia, but there is no evidence for this.
Little experience with jihadist groups
Mozambique has intensified checks on the border with Tanzania. But a complete check on all traffic crossing the border river Romuva is not possible.
Following the recent attacks, 40 predominantly young men were detained as they were attempting to travel to Cabo Delgado. According to police reports, the traders were planning to join a jihadist group. However, human rights groups say there is no evidence for such claims.