Maputo — Mozambican Navy patrols on Monday detained 20 men, suspected of being ISIS terrorists, on board two fishing vessels off the coast of Mocimboa da Praia district, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
The two boats were sailing in a forbidden area, reports the independent television station STV. The movement of all vessels, including fishing boats, between Mocimboa da Praia and Palma is strictly prohibited, in a bid to enforce tighter control and prevent the use of the coast by terrorist groups.
"Fishing is strictly forbidden in the coastal area between Matemo (an island off the Mocimba da Praia coast) and Palma, but here we have 20 suspected terrorists who were on board two fishing vessels," said Agostinho Lucas, a high-ranking naval official.
However, the suspects denied any involvement with the terrorist groups and claim that they did not know it was forbidden to sail along the area.
"I am heading to Palma and I swear I did not know that boats are banned from sailing in the area," said one of the suspects, who also denied any sort of connection with the "Al-Shabaab", as the terror groups are known in several parts of the province.
Lucas declared that the number of terrorists arrested has been falling and Mocimboa da Praia is broadly under control of the joint task force set up between the Mozambican and Rwandan forces.
"Nowadays, the number of arrests has been reduced, because they prefer to use the maritime route as the roads are all blocked. Work is underway to prevent the movement of vessels in the area," he added, pointing out that the task force remains involved in clearing the terrain.
The Mocimboa da Praia district police commander, Hermenegildo Macamo, stated that the joint task force is now conducting door-to-door searches and they screen a daily average of between 50 and 60 houses. Two rifles and some ammunition have so far been recovered in these searches.