Author`s name Lyuba Lulko

ISIS chooses another target for 2021 - Mozambique

ISIS* has gone on a massive offensive in Cabo Delgado, a gas-rich province of Mozambique. Portugal has sent a military contingent there, and the United States sent advisers.

ISIS attack on Mozambique

Portugal decided to send 60 troops to assist Mozambique in its confrontation with ISIS, which on Wednesday seized the settlement of Palma, a gas production center in the north of the country.

This was announced in an interview with Telejornal by Portugal's Foreign Minister, Augusto Santos Silva.

Palma has a 42,000-strong population (mostly Muslims). According to other sources, the population is much larger - 75,000. The town of Palma is home to 200 employees of the gas exploration complex of the French company Total, who at the moment of the attack fled to their place of work (10 km from Palma).

At least seven local residents were killed in the ambush, a Portuguese citizen was wounded. In the provincial capital of Kabu Delgado, the city of Pemba, refugees began to arrive reporting the massacre in Palma.

According to Diario de Noticias, Al-Shabaab militants started attacking the region three years ago. At least 2,600 people have been killed since them, half of them were civilians, and almost 700,000 people have been displaced.

In the past year, terrorists increased the frequency and severity of their attacks. In August last year, they took control of the city of Mosimboa da Praia.

The US State Department listed Al-Shabaab as a terrorist group linked to ISIS and announced that the US military would spend two months training soldiers in Mozambique to counter terrorists.

Alexander Reimakers, senior Africa analyst at British risk assessment firm Verisk Maplecroft, suggested that the militants used a three-month break in attacks to prepare for a major operation in Palma.

"This is a clear demonstration that Al-Shabaab is constantly building up its military capabilities, improving and supporting the initiative," Reimakers told Diario de Noticias.

ISIS struggles for control over gas fields of Mozambique

The situation is aggravated by the fact that the Tanzanian government does not control the south of the country where the group has settled, political analyst Nuno Rogueiro warned in a comment to Lusa agency.

He believes that "it was a purely local rebel movement" that came to the attention of world's major Islamist groups, because "Mozambique has made headlines because of the gas deposits."

"The Islamic State* has chosen this region as its main battleground in 2021,” said Rogueiro.

This is a war, and sooner or later Mozambique will have to say that it needs "funds from the international community," the analyst told Lusa.

Andrei Tokarev, the chief of the Center for South African Studies at the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, agrees with the Portuguese expert. He also believes that Maputo needs to seek help.

"In fact, there are full-fledged hostilities happening there, and the government of Mozambique will seek support and assistance from other countries - the Russian Federation, China and the United States, which have their own strategic interests in this region," the expert noted.

He also believes that the population is being terrorised "in order to establish control over this territory that is rich in energy resources."

Islamists in Mozambique?

After Mozambique declared independence, Moscow had been expanding cooperation with this country until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Andrei Tokarev said. 

Moscow relied on the FRELIMO party. The West made its stake - on RENAMO organization - the Mozambican National Resistance, which struggled for power in this country, staged terrorist attacks and organized armed resistance.

After the end of the civil war and the signing of agreements between the two movements to end hostilities, RENAMO split, and a radical armed wing came out from the movement. It subsequently resumed hostilities primarily in the north of the country.

According to the expert, at the time when RENAMO leader Afonso Dlakama died in 2018, and other leaders started hogging the covers, a large gas and oil field was discovered on the shelf of Mozambique.

"This happened at the time when Islamist groups were trying to penetrate the territory of Africa from the east in order to establish drug trafficking, and those groups, together with the fighters of the irreconcilable wing of RENAMO, started terrorizing the population in order to establish control over this energy-rich territory and drug trafficking," Andrei Tokarev said.

Portugal and Europe will not cope with ISIS in Mozambique alone

According to the expert, Europe will not be able to cope with Islamist groups in Africa. Their influence and power originate from the fact that they force poor, unemployed population to join terrorist groups. 

To defeat extremism, one should destroy the social ethnic base under the feet of extremist groups, the extremist said. 

Portugal, according to the specialist, as a former metropolitanate, feels the need to be responsible for what happens in its former dominions. In addition, Portugal and Mozambique are part of the 25-year-old Community of Portuguese Language Countries - they cooperate in a wide variety of areas, including defense and security.

*Terrorist organization, banned in Russia

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