A new front in the terrorist scourge?

When we turn our attention to terrorism – of the Islamist extremist variety – our focus tends to be concentrated in areas we all know to be frequently beset by attacks.  These regions would include Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Nigeria for most as an initial cut.  Those who watch terrorism more closely would throw in the Philippines, Pakistan, Egypt and perhaps what is known as the Sahel (Niger, Burkina Faso, etc.).  There are other nations but I hope you get my point that there is a wide diversity of threat level.  For  instance, despite the occasional attack in the West, we do not normally associate daily terrorism with Europe, the Americas and Australia/New Zealand.  None of this implies, of course, that terrorism is not possible in these zones, just that there are different levels of threat in different parts of the world.  Things can – and do – change.

Nigeria, for instance, was not seen as a particularly hot spot for terrorism a decade ago: Boko Haram changed all that (the Countering Terrorism Center at West Point in the US has just put out a collection of papers on the group – I recommend the executive summary if you don’t have a lot of time).  The underlying truth is that anywhere can evolve into a locus for terrorism if the circumstances and conditions are right.

To this list of ‘unlikely’ terrorism hubs we may now have to add: Mozambique.  On May 27 a group of men armed with machetes invaded a village in the country’s north near the border with Tanzania and beheaded ten people.  Authorities, who suspected the men were ‘Islamist extremists’ , found and killed nine ‘insurgents’ less than a week later (NB there is no information to date to link the two events).   The attackers have been called ‘Al Shabaab’, although it is important to note that there is no tie to the Somali terrorist group of the same name (‘Al Shabaab’ just means ‘the youth’ in Arabic by the way).

What the hell is happening in Mozambique?  Is this the latest front in the ill-named ‘war on terror’?  Do we need to start adding Mozambique to our watchlist?  All good questions with no answers so far.

I must confess to a bit of a sheepish moment.  When I was writing The Lesser Jihads back in 2016 I was trying to include those countries I thought would be of importance in the aftermath of the fall of Islamic State (either as affiliates of IS or other independent concentrations of Islamist extremists). I had chapters on East Asia, South Asia and Africa.  In that latter bit I wrote about Nigeria, Central African Republic, Egypt and Kenya, but NOT about Mozambique.  Did I miss something or did this terrorist ‘movement’ arise after I published?  If the former, my bad, but if the latter this demonstrates how fluid this threat is.  For the record, I didn’t even know there was a Muslim population in Mozambique.

When we do think of Mozambique, if at all, we may recall the decades long (1975-1992) civil war that unfolded after independence from Portugal or the fact that the country is desperately poor (it ranks as the 7th poorest country in the world).  This latest attack, which may have links to the siege of a town called Mocimboa da Praia last October, suggests we may have to add Islamist terrorism to the country’s woes.

I’d like to hear from those who follow Mozambique much more closely than  I do.  One element I find interesting is the relative proximity between these incidents and Tanzania: I did cover the terrorist threat in that country in The Lesser Jihads and wonder if perhaps there is some spillover.  As someone who follows terrorist phenomena quite a bit I am now thinking I might want to add Mozambique to my daily scans. I hope I am wrong, not just for the sake of my individual workload but for the people of Mozambique.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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