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The Mozambican police announced on Monday the detention of 24 people who they feared were going to join Islamic fundamentalists in Mocimboa da Praia district, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
According to the spokesperson for the Cabo Delgado provincial police command, Augusto Guta, cited by the independent television station STV, the 24 were taken off a bus at Ouasse, about 60 kilometres from Mocimboa town, on 3 January.
The bus had come from Nacala in the neighbouring province of Nampula. Guta said the 24 claimed they were going to Mocimboa da Praia as fishermen “but after investigation, the police concluded that this was a group of doubtful conduct, with links to the men who attacked the town in October”.
All 24 have now been transferred to the provincial capital, Pemba, and the case has been referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Guta referred to those who attacked Mocimboa da Praia on 5 October as “insurgents”, but never referred to the religious nature of their demands. There is, however, no doubt that the group are Islamic fundamentalists, which is why local people refer to them as “Al-Shabaab”, although they seem to have no organisational links with the Somali terrorist group of that name.
The group wants to impose sharia law, ban the sale of alcohol, and remove Christian crosses and secular monuments. They have tried to persuade Mocimboa da Praia residents to remove their children from state schools.
On 5 October, the group attacked three police installations in Mocimboa da Praia town. The defence and security forces regained full control of the town in a couple of days, but there have been subsequent ambushes against police vehicles on the roads of the district.
In December, the General Commander of the police, Bernadino Rafael, gave the insurgents seven days to surrender and hand over their weapons – otherwise they would be regarded as terrorists and hunted down.
That deadline expired on 22 December, and the detention of the 24 men on 3 January is part of the manhunt against the fundamentalists that Rafael had promised.