Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi said Wednesday the government was aware of Islamic radicalization in the northern province of Cabo Delgado five years before jihadists launched a bloody insurgency there.
More than 2,300 people have died and over 570,000 have fled their homes since a shadowy group, known locally as Al Shabaab, unleashed their campaign in the gas-rich province.
In a state-of-the-nation address to lawmakers, Nyusi revealed the identity of the group’s purported leaders and details about their organization’s rise.
“The radicalization was promoted by a citizen of Tanzanian nationality identified as Abdul Shakulo,” he said. “He urged disobedience to the constitution, banned Muslim children from attending (state) schools and required them to attend madrasas” or Koranic schools, he said.
“The criminal action of these groups, who called themselves Islamists, started in 2012. The government of Mozambique already knew (of them) in 2012 and managed to contain their expansion until 2017.”
In 2017, the jihadists attacked three police posts in the city of Mocimboa da Praia, killing two police officers.
Since then, the group carried out more than 500 attacks, according to ACLED, a US-based NGO which documents the violence.
#MOZAMBIQUE 🇲🇿: Recent #insurgent activity in Macomia District has resulted in civilians fleeing the coastal town of Pangane. One of two laden #boats that departed to the #island of Matemo last week is said to have sunk, with reports of several civilian casualties. pic.twitter.com/mk8FtuFoeE
— Ambrey Intelligence (@Ambrey_Intel) October 9, 2020
Government forces have failed to contain their advance.
But Nyusi said many of the movement’s leaders have been killed in combat and the government was committed to equipping and training its troops to overcome the insurgency.
“We Mozambicans need to develop our capabilities internally. We will be the ones who will be in the first line of defense of our homeland. The government will do everything to make this process happen,” he said.
Nyusi added that the leadership of the group was “mostly foreign” and named five men who he said had been killed in fighting the security forces.
“Among the terrorists killed in combat, there are citizens of Tanzanian origin, Congolese, Somalis, Ugandans, Kenyans, and mostly Mozambicans,” he said.
A number of countries have been offering aid to Mozambique to fight the jihadists, including the former colonial ruler Portugal, the United States, France, Spain, and Russia, Nyusi said.
“We are intensifying international cooperation to combat terrorism,” he said, adding that the various proposals were being assessed to ensure a coordinated strategy.