Monday May 17th, 2021 9:33PM

EXPLAINER: Who are the rebels in northern Mozambique?

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — With more than a week of fierce fighting including beheaded bodies in the streets, the battle for the northern Mozambique town of Palma has highlighted the southern Africa country’s insurgency and threats to its multibillion-dollar investments.

Here's a look at what is known about the rebel group and the challenges facing Mozambique.


They're mostly unemployed young Muslim men from Cabo Delgado, the northernmost province on the country's long Indian Ocean coastline.

For centuries, most people there have been Muslims who traded with Swahili dhow sailors and coexisted with Catholicism brought by Portuguese colonial rulers.

Despite rich natural resources, the province has been one of Mozambique's least developed, with low levels of education, health services, and nutrition.

In recent years some unemployed youths have studied abroad on scholarships from Muslim organizations and locals say many returned preaching a more radical form of Islam. In 2017, violence erupted against government targets by a few small bands, often using machetes to kill police and officials.

The rebels have grown to several hundred, they use motorcycles and are now well-armed with automatic weapons and mortars. Military experts say many weapons come from abroad.


They are known locally as al-Shabab — Arabic for “youth” — but it seems to be just a handy nickname as they don't have any known affiliation with Somalia's jihadi rebels of the same name.

For a few years, the insurgents didn't appear to be linked to any group, but in 2019, the Islamic State group began claiming responsibility for their attacks, calling them the Islamic State Central African Province.

IS also posts photos and videos of the militants, often standing by the group's black flag. A video posted this week showed them dressed in a mix of camouflage and black shirts and red scarves, and speaking Swahili and some Arabic.


The number of attacks since 2017 has risen to more than 838, and more than 500 of those have been in the past year, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project.

More than 2,600 people have been killed. The humanitarian crisis has also dramatically increased, from 90,000 displaced at the start of 2020 to more than 670,000 now, according to U.N. organizations. More than 900,000 people in the area need food aid, according to the World Food Program.

After years of hit-and-run attacks, the rebels captured the port town of Mocimboa da Praia in August and have held it since then. They've attacked smaller towns in the surrounding area.

In one massacre, they beheaded 50 people on a soccer pitch, according to a report confirmed by the Catholic bishop of Pemba, the provincial capital, where hundreds of thousands have fled. The rebels target government offices, kill local officials and rob banks.


President Filipe Nyusi's government in Maputo, in the southernmost part of Mozambique, has launched a counterterrorism offensive by the national police and the military.

It also has used a private military organization based in South Africa, the Dyck Advisory Group, which has sent helicopter gunships and other aircraft to find and attack the rebels.

Because the rebels often mingle with civilians, military action is difficult. Atrocities have been committed by all sides — the rebels, the government forces and the mercenaries — according to a March 2 report by Amnesty International. The government and the Dyck group deny the charges, saying they are investigating them.


The United States last month declared Mozambique's rebels to be a terror organization and sent special operations forces officers to carry out a two-month training of Mozambique's marines.

Portugal said it's sending 60 officers to provide training and said the European Union is considering military support.

Mozambique is a member of the 16-nation Southern African Development Community, which has been closely watching the instability. The group has had a few meetings on the rebels but Mozambique hasn't yet requested direct military help from neighboring countries, including South Africa and Zimbabwe.


Rebel violence had caused a suspension of work by the French oil and gas firm Total in January.

On March 24, Total said security had improved enough to allow it to resume, but within a few hours, the rebels attacked Palma, and Total once again evacuated workers from the fortified construction site.

Experts say it will be a long time before stability is sufficiently restored for Total to get back to work. The huge deposits of natural gas are reported to be among the world's largest, and the government was hoping the projects would bring much-needed economic growth.

Exxon also was planning an investment, but that appears to be on hold.

“The whole gas gamble was bet on a promise of security, and Nyusi -- and Mozambique -- lost the bet,” wrote academic Joseph Hanlon in the newsletter Mozambique News Reports and Clippings.


The rebels have grown in size and organization. Once viewed as a ragtag bunch of dissatisfied youths, their attacks are more strategic and they are spreading their reach over a large part of northern Cabo Delgado.

Military experts say restoring stability will be a long, violent and challenging process. A more long-range solution would be to improve local governments and provide better services and living conditions, according to analysts and military experts.

But that will be difficult, with the rebels already entrenched. Africa's arc of extremism — from the Sahel region in West Africa, to Nigeria's Boko Haram insurgency in central Africa and al-Shabab's entrenched conflict in Somalia in East Africa — has a new foothold in southern Africa in Mozambique that will be hard to dislodge.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP World News, AP Business, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Utilities
© Copyright 2021
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
EXPLAINER: Who are the rebels in northern Mozambique?
The rebel attack on Mozambique’s northern town of Palma has highlighted the growth of the insurgency in the southern African country
2:50AM ( 4 minutes ago )
Christians mark Good Friday as holy sites gradually reopen
Christians in the Holy Land are marking Good Friday this year amid signs the coronavirus crisis is winding down
2:27AM ( 27 minutes ago )
Italy may be in Easter lockdown, but the party's on at sea
Italy may be in a strict coronavirus lockdown this Easter, with travel restricted between regions and new quarantines imposed
2:23AM ( 31 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Train crashes in eastern Taiwan, killing 34, injuring dozens
A passenger train smashed into a vehicle truck on its tracks and partially derailed outside a rail tunnel along Taiwan’s east coast, killing at least 34 people in Taiwan's worst railway disaster in decades
1:48AM ( 1 hour ago )
Biden's 'Jobs Cabinet' to sell infrastructure as GOP resists
President Joe Biden is setting about convincing America it needs his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan
1:47AM ( 1 hour ago )
Myanmar cuts wireless internet service amid coup protests
Myanmar’s wireless broadband internet services have been shut down by order of the military, as protesters continue to defy the junta
1:42AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Business
The Latest: Alabama to begin vaccinating prison inmates
The Alabama prison system has announced that it will begin vaccinating inmates after previously only making vaccine available to prison officers and staff
9:24PM ( 5 hours ago )
US looks to keep critical sectors safe from cyberattacks
A top Biden administration official says the government is undertaking a new effort to help electric utilities, water districts and other critical industries protect against potentially damaging cyberattacks
7:22PM ( 7 hours ago )
The Latest: Vermont expects to expand vaccine eligibility
The state of Vermont is expecting to expand eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to out-of-state college students and second homeowners on April 30 if there is an adequate supply of vaccines
6:47PM ( 8 hours ago )
AP Business - Industries
US factory activity expands at fastest pace since 1983
U.S. manufacturers expanded in March at the fastest pace in 37 years, a sign of strengthening demand as the pandemic wanes and government emergency aid flows through the economy
10:40AM ( 16 hours ago )
Saudi minister urges caution on oil production levels
The oil cartel OPEC and allied countries are meeting to decide production levels that could have an impact on gas prices at the pump
10:21AM ( 16 hours ago )
Safety last: Risky investments soared at start of 2021
Risky stocks seen as nearly untouchable a year ago burst to the market’s best performances during the first three months of 2021, headlining a fourth straight quarter of gains for the S&P 500
10:08AM ( 16 hours ago )
AP Business - Utilities
Christians mark Good Friday as holy sites gradually reopen
Christians in the Holy Land are marking Good Friday this year amid signs the coronavirus crisis is winding down
2:27AM ( 27 minutes ago )
Italy may be in Easter lockdown, but the party's on at sea
Italy may be in a strict coronavirus lockdown this Easter, with travel restricted between regions and new quarantines imposed
2:23AM ( 31 minutes ago )
Tar Heels turn attention to hiring Williams' successor
North Carolina now faces the challenge of finding Roy Williams’ successor
2:12AM ( 42 minutes ago )
At last, Oladipo finally gets his chance to play with Heat
Victor Oladipo got swept out of the first round of the playoffs last season by Miami, and when that series concluded he had no doubt the Heat would end up in the NBA Finals
2:03AM ( 50 minutes ago )
A different Augusta National await newcomers from November
The Masters features only six players, three of them amateurs, who have never played in the Masters
1:55AM ( 58 minutes ago )