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A group of 30 to 40 members of the armed gangs that have attacked villages in northern Mozambique received training outside the country by militias with links to terrorist organisations, according to a study presented yesterday in Maputo.
“These were the ones that were trained by groups operating in the Great Lakes region of Congo, mainly, and others such as Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya,” said researcher João Pereira, the co-author with Salvador Forquilha and Saide Habibe of the first systematic investigation into the link between recent violence and that type of organisations.
Together, the three authors of the study, “Islamic Radicalisation in Northern Mozambique”, conducted 125 interviews during three visits to Cabo Delgado after the attack on the village of Mocímboa da Praia on October 5, 2017.
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The zone currently has several armed “cells”, each “with its leadership” and with a command made from “other nuclei or cells scattered in the zone of Kibiti, in Tanzania, and in other neighbouring districts of Mocímboa da Praia ” João Pereira explained during a presentation at the Pedagogical University.
“The first goal [of the armed groups] is to create a situation of instability in the region to enable the illicit business in which the leaders are involved,” – leaders who, despite using the Islamic religion as one a focus for radicalisation and opposition to the state, have little to do with religion.
“It is no coincidence that much of the movement began as a religious cell” in 2015, but became an armed wing when it encountered resistance in local Islamic structures.
At that time, they began sending young people to train “in the Great Lakes region, Kenya and Somalia”,
“As soon as this group of trained youth re-entered national territory, they created the military wing,” that is, the 30 to 40 trained individuals returned to their respective religious cells to escalate the confrontation, as happened in Mocímboa da Praia.
According to interviewees, a man dismissed from the Mozambique police was a member of the armed wing and helped plan the attacks on police stations in Mocímboa da Praia.
Two others, dismissed border guards, were paid 25-30,000 meticais (EUR 350-420) to set up training in camps in the bush and at the premises of the supposed religious leaders.
According to Pereira, the current situation remains one of “fear and panic” with rural residents in northern Mozambique living “without really knowing what will happen tomorrow”.
Neither the military nor civilians know what to expect, he said, citing reports about men killed on their way to the fields.
Women and children have been abducted to the camps, witnesses say, and there is no way for the authorities to say definitively how many people have died since October, nor how many members of the armed cells remain in the bush.
Mozambican authorities however say that the situation is under control, and the prosecutor’s office has charged 234 defendants with the possession and use of prohibited weapons, qualified and aggravated homicide and mercenary activities.
João Pereira and Salvador Forquilha have degrees in Political Science from the University Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM) in Maputo and represent the Foundation for the Support of Civil Society (MASC) and the Institute for Social and Economic Studies (IESE). respectively.
Saide Habibe participated in the study as a specialist in Islamic affairs in Mozambique.
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