From Mozambique to Nigeria: The Alarming Expansion Of ISIS In Africa

Jihadists linked to ISIS killed 600 people last year in Cabo Delgado, the northernmost province of Mozambique. In total, the ISIS-affiliated group claimed responsibility for twenty-six violent attacks in Mozambique last year.

The Atrocities Of The New Terror Group

The terrorist organization has beheaded, disfigured and dismembered citizens in the province, including children. Bordering Tanzania, the coastal province is made up of small villages, most of whom are populated by subsistence farmers and fishermen. Many of the villages have been burned and most have now been deserted.

Apart from its political affiliation, not much is known about the group which started in October 2017,  including its name, origins, mandate and funding. Videos posted on social media have supposedly shown the terrorist group waving the ISIS flag.

‘No Evidence … Of An Overarching Leadership’

According to Jasmine Opperman, an African expert on Islamic Theology on Counterterrorism, there are between seven and ten cells operating in Cabo Delgado. Ms Opperman claims that there is “no evidence at this point in time of an overarching ideology or an overarching leadership.”

“There are indicators of Islamic extremism involved in some of these cell structures,” she added. “We are sitting with a serious, serious, problem. The Islamic State does not need a well-run organization [operation]. They need a proxy and some of these cells are the ideal proxy.”

Further exacerbating the situation are the weak borders between SADC countries. Although the situation is not yet a “direct threat”, political and security risk analyst, Johann Smith said: “This is not a Mozambican problem, it’s a regional one.”

“After the first attack, the SADC Security Organ should have met to decide how they were going to deal with the problem. Up to now, the issue has not featured on the agenda during subsequent meetings.”

Mozambique: Our Troops Are Being Deceived

Last week, President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique alleged that the terrorist group was disseminating “currents of disinformation” against Mozambican security forces. Speaking to the troops at a military base in Mueda, a Cabo Delgado town, Nyusi said the disinformation “shows a lack of respect for those who are sacrificing their lives in defence of the communities.”

“We are accompanying the attacks of the criminals and your [citizens’] response, because we have noted that the enemy strategy is to put us in conflict with our people.”

President Nyusi claimed that the insurgents had deceived Mozambican army and police that their terrorist attacks had been carried out by elements within the army and the police.

He said that people were “spreading messages against sovereignty, without being aware of the great sacrifices that are being made.”

Nyusi said he wants Mozambican forces to find out more about the terrorists, including their origins and their location.

‘Go Forward To Face A Common Enemy’

“This is because, in a house where we don’t know who the thief is, people begin to distrust each other,” he explained. “We want to build trust and go forward to face a common enemy.”

Despite this, the common enemy has not doused the tense relationship between the Mozambique Defence Armed Force (FADM) and Russian-backed Wagner Group fighters.

Arriving to fight the Islamic militants, the Wagner troops were ill-prepared for the conditions in Mozambique, according to Smith. He clarified that their military equipment was ineffective, and that the troops were ill-equipped to deal with the heat.

Smith: Russia Making Mozambique’s Situation Worse

The Russian troops have now withdrawn to Nacala, a city also in Northern Mozambique, to plan and retrain. Wagner’s presence, Smith added, has served to increase insurgent attacks.

“The sophistication and the brazenness of the attacks are evolving.” Smith said. “They have access to intelligence, access to knowledge on where the deployments are when they are at their most vulnerable, they have access to FADM uniforms, they have seized weapons that Wagner has given to the FADM⁠—sophisticated weapons⁠—which means their sophistication I escalating day by day.

“The brutality against the civilians is an answer I am still looking for. I am not sure what their motive behind that is, [but] it is gruesome.”

The FADM and Wagner’s failure to curb the insurgency has emboldened the terrorist groups, and they have begun to move more inland.

The Wider African Fight Against ISIS

Mozambique is not the only African nation battling the presence of ISIS-affiliated jihadists. In West Africa⁠—particularly Nigeria⁠—Boko Haram insurgents pledged allegiance to ISIS in a video released in 2015. In Somalia, Al Shabaab members fight on behalf of al Qaeda, with some members pledging allegiance to ISIS.

As it loses ground in the Middle East, ISIS is increasingly moving towards Africa, spreading to Tunisia, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cameron and now, the SADC region.

The African Union’s reaction to the threat of ISIS, including conflict, war and violence has seen no success in the continent.

“During the 50th Anniversary of the Organization of African Unity/African Union (OAU/AU) in May 2013, the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government adopted a landmark declaration,” a press release from the AU read in 2017.

“They vowed that Africa would not bequeath the burden of conflicts to the next generation and made a commitment to end violent conflict on the continent by 2020. This was translated into the AU initiative: Silencing the Guns by 2020.”

It is now 2020, and rather than stemming the progress of ISIS in the continent, the terrorist group is spreading rapidly throughout all of Africa. This is a massive threat to the security, stability, longevity and happiness of Africa’s 1.3 billion population.