The discreet rise of the Chabab of Mozambique

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A woman who fled Palma by boat, with a thousand other passengers, disembarks in Pemba on April 1, 2021. STRINGER / REUTERS

When they launched their attack on Palma, in northern Mozambique, the jihadists of the Chabab group were not very numerous. About 100 fighters, according to local and foreign sources, whose assault, which began on March 24, caused the fall of a small coastal town. Five days later, the Islamic State (IS) organization claimed the operation of the insurgents of Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa – also called “Ansar Al-Sunna” or more simply “Al-Chabab” (“the young”) – on Palma , then praised this group in its weekly publication, Al-Naba.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also The hell of the jihadist attack on the city of Palma, Mozambique

The Chababs could then withdraw from Palma, having proved that their military action was capable of taking the Mozambican government by surprise and threatening a giant gas project, the one still under construction on the Afungi peninsula, operated by the Total group. On Wednesday April 7, President Filipe Nyusi affirmed that the rebels had been dislodged from the city of Palma, without claiming victory.

“A shock” for the power

The Total group had announced, a few days after the Chabab assault, and while the gas project site had not been targeted, to withdraw all its staff. A source close to the case assures that the operation constituted ” a shock “ for Mozambican power, before adding: “We hope that it will be beneficial. “ The Mozambican security forces had engaged, after a first attack not far from Afungi, on 1is January, to ensure a protected zone within a radius of 25 kilometers around the perimeter of the gas project. This ambition, which did not take into consideration the populations living in this part of the province of Cabo Delgado, remained ineffective.

The attack on the Chabab also seems to come at the right time to support the decision, in March, of the US State Department to classify the Chabab – renamed in the passage “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Mozambique” (“ISIS-Mozambique ») – in the list of foreign terrorist organizations. Two forms of analysis clash: either the American decision has given an exaggerated scope to a rural, local movement, and serves the propaganda of ISIS strategists. Or, conversely, it is proof of their importance, so far underestimated.

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