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Is Islamic State now spreading in southern Africa?

Islamist attack in Mozambique

The Islamic State boasts of the latest attack on the city of Palma in Mozambique, in which, according to IS spokesman AMAQ, 55 “Christians and foreigners” were killed. According to security expert Joe van der Walt, the IS representation is pure propaganda.

On Wednesday, March 25th Fighters from the Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah (ASWJ) militia attacked Palma in the Muslim-dominated province of Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado, killing “dozens of Mozambican soldiers and Christians” over five days, according to the AMAQ. Locals also simply call it Al Shabab (“The Youth”), but they have no connection to Somali Al Shabab .

The attack was carried out with extreme brutality; people are said to have been beheaded and small children were shot at.

The government, on the other hand, speaks of seven dead. At least two foreigners are said to be among the victims. The French gas company Total has a natural gas plant near Palma. Most of the residents are said to have fled. Foreigners were evacuated from the Amarula Hotel by private security companies using boats and helicopters.

The “Islamic State” wanted to attack with its own flag. Observers feared that a new bastion for the Islamists was emerging in Mozambique. The newspaper “Carta de Mocambique” pointed out, however, that the photo published by AMAQ clearly does not come from Palma, but from Mocimboa da Praia, which was attacked by militias a year ago.

Joe van der Walt, CEO of the South African security company Focus Group, said that the threats from the “Islamic State” had little to do with reality. The Al-Shabab fighters have already disappeared from Palma after looting ammunition, 90 tons of food from the World Food Program and three banks. “They’re probably having a big party somewhere now.”

The Mozambican government has now declared that it has “retaken” Palma.  But that is only because the militias voluntarily evacuated the city with their loot. They have discovered a good business model. The government is apparently unable to stop them, so then why should they stop? 

The Al-Shabab’s approach to the attack was very coordinated, armed with grenade launchers and mortars from several directions at the same time. Insurgents had infiltrated the city beforehand, hid weapons and disguised themselves as civilians. Other attackers had worn Mozambican army uniforms to camouflage themselves, reports the Focus Group.

The attack on Palma, however, is more like traditional African tribal feuds and not a resurgent “Islamic State”.  Nevertheless, the danger of Islamic terror spreading in southern Africa should not be underestimated.  At least that’s what IS has on its screen. If you don’t do anything, it could be a problem. It’s currently a headless opponent, you don’t know who’s behind it. That’s why it’s hard to fight them. The biggest problem now is the refugee camps south of Pemba. Sleepers with ties to the insurgents could easily hide there.

The locals are rightly dissatisfied with the government, which is also cracking down on the population. The poverty is so great, the illiteracy rate is 80%. The oil giants like Total make enormous profits here with natural gas, but the money doesn’t get to the people, it ends up with some corrupt officials. There is of course great dissatisfaction.

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