Officials puzzled by attacks that killed 16 in relatively stable Mozambique

Filipe NyusiIn a surprise move, the president of Mozambique has fired the head of the military and the director of the country’s intelligence service, two weeks after attacks by an unidentified group left 16 people dead in a northern town. The attacks occurred on October 5 and 6 in Mocimboa da Praia, a small town of about 30,000 people located along Mozambique’s extreme northern coastline. The town lies only a few miles south of Mozambique’s border with Tanzania and within sight of several offshore gas fields in the Indian Ocean. According to local reports, several dozen assailants targeted police stations in Mocimboa da Praia with firearms and explosives, killing two police officers. An estimated 14 assailants also died in the coordinated attacks, while at least 12 more were wounded. Police forces were able to reclaim control of the town only after the eventual arrival of reinforcements from the tourist resort of Pemba, located 350 miles to the south of Mocimboa da Praia.

Two weeks after the attacks, however, the ideological backgrounds and motives of the assailants remain unclear. Mozambique has seen armed attacks by guerrillas before, but these are usually attributed to Renamo, a rightwing paramilitary group that was financially supported by Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa during the Cold War. The group is still in existence, but has mostly transformed itself into a political party. Its military wing declared a unilateral ceasefire in December of last year, which has been broadly observed. Importantly, the government did not attribute the Mocimboa da Praia attacks to Renamo. But if Renamo was not behind the attacks, then who was it? Local reports have mentioned a so-called “radical Islamist sect”; but Mozambique is a predominantly Christian country and does not have a history of Islamic radicalism. Nor is there known activity in Mozambique of African Islamist groups like Boko Haram or Al-Shabaab, which are strong in western and eastern Africa respectively.

In the days following the attacks in Mocimboa da Praia, police detained 52 people, including Muslim religious leaders, and confiscated half a dozen firearms, as well as hundreds of rounds of ammunition. But by the middle of last week, police officials began to dismiss earlier claims that the attackers were linked to an organized terrorist group. Some southeastern Africa watchers have suggested that the assailants were members of Swalissuna, a locally based militant opposition group that rejects the authority of the central government in capital Maputo, located in Mozambique’s south. The group is virtually unknown and is believed to have been founded in 2011 or 2012. It has no religious affiliation and its members are motivated by domestic grievances related to economic restructuring, corruption and political reform.

On Tuesday, Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi announced the surprise replacement of the country’s two most powerful security officials. Lagos Lidimo, director general of the State Information and Security Service (SISE), which reports directly to the President, was dismissed overnight and replaced by Julio Jane, who until Monday was the commander of the Mozambican National Police. Also replaced was Graça Chongo, head of the country’s armed forces. His replacement has not yet been named.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 October 2017 | Permalink

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