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Who are the rebels in northern Mozambique?

Johannesburg (AP) – With more than a week of fierce fighting, including beheadings in the streets, the battle for the city of Palma in northern Mozambique highlighted the South African uprising and threats to its multibillion-dollar investment.

Here is a look at what is known about the rebel group and the challenges facing Mozambique.


These are mostly unemployed young Muslim men from Cabo Delgado, the northernmost province on the country’s long Indian coastline.

For centuries, most people there have been Muslims who trade in Swahili sailors and coexist with Catholicism brought by Portuguese colonial rulers.

Despite its rich natural resources, the province is one of the least developed in Mozambique, with a low level of education, health services and nutrition.

In recent years, some unemployed youths have studied abroad with scholarships from Muslim organizations, and locals say many have returned, preaching a more radical form of Islam. In 201

7, violence erupted against government targets by several small gangs, often using machetes to kill police and officials.

The rebels have grown to several hundred, use motorcycles and are now well armed with automatic weapons and mortars. Military experts say many weapons come from abroad.


They are known locally as al-Shabab – Arabic for “youth”, but this seems to be just a convenient nickname, as they have no known affiliation with the Somali jihadist rebels of the same name.

For several years, the rebels did not appear to be associated with any group, but in 2019 the Islamic State group began taking responsibility for their attacks, calling them the Central African province of Islamic State.

The IS also published photos and videos of fighters, often standing next to the group’s black flag. A video released this week shows them wearing a combination of camouflage and black shirts and red scarves, and speaking Swahili and a little Arabic.


The number of attacks since 2017 has risen to more than 838, and more than 500 of them were last year, according to the project for the location of armed conflicts and data on events.

More than 2,600 people were killed. The humanitarian crisis has also increased dramatically, from 90,000 displaced in early 2020 to more than 670,000 now, according to UN organizations. More than 900,000 people in the area need food aid, according to the World Food Program.

After years of strikes and armed attacks, the rebels captured the port city of Mochimboa da Praia in August and have held it ever since. They have attacked smaller towns in the area.

In one massacre, they beheaded 50 people on a football field, according to a report confirmed by the Catholic bishop of Pemba, the provincial capital, where hundreds of thousands have fled. The rebels targeted government services, killing local officials and robbing banks.


The government of President Filipe Newsy in Maputo, in the southernmost part of Mozambique, has launched a counter-terrorist offensive by the national police and military.

He also used a private military organization based in South Africa, the Dyck Advisory Group, which sent helicopter warships and other aircraft to find and attack the rebels.

Because insurgents often mix with civilians, military action is difficult. Atrocities were committed by all parties – rebels, government forces and mercenaries – according to a March 2 report from Amnesty International. The government and the Dyck group have denied the allegations, saying they are investigating them.


Last month, the United States declared the Mozambican rebels a terrorist organization and sent special operations forces to conduct a two-month training of the Marines.

Portugal said it was sending 60 training officers and said the European Union was considering military support.

Mozambique is a member of the 16-member South African Development Community, which is closely monitoring instability. The group has had several meetings with the rebels, but Mozambique has not yet requested direct military assistance from neighboring countries, including South Africa and Zimbabwe.


The rebels’ violence sparked the shutdown of French oil and gas company Total in January.

On March 24, Total said security had improved enough to be restored, but within hours the rebels attacked Palma and Total again evacuated workers from the fortified construction site.

Experts say it will be a long time before stability is restored enough for Total to return to work. The huge natural gas fields are reported to be among the largest in the world, and the government hopes the projects will bring much-needed economic growth.

Exxon was also planning an investment, but it appears to have been delayed.

“The whole gas gambling was based on a promise of security, and Newsy – and Mozambique – lost the bet,” wrote academician Joseph Hanlon in the Mozambique News Reports and Clippings.


The rebels have grown in size and organization. Once seen as a huge bunch of disgruntled young people, their attacks are more strategic and they extend their reach over much of northern Cape Delgado.

Military experts say restoring stability will be a long, violent and challenging process. A longer-term solution would be to improve local government and provide better services and living conditions, according to analysts and military experts.

But this will be difficult, as the rebels are already established. The arch of extremism in Africa – from the Sahel region in West Africa to the Boko Haram uprising in Nigeria in Central Africa and the al-Shabab conflict in Somalia in East Africa – has a new foothold in South Africa in Mozambique that will be difficult to displace. .

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