IT was not too long ago when the dreaded shock troops of the self-declared Islamic State group were rampaging through Iraq and Syria, leaving a bloody trail of death and destruction in their wake. It took the collective efforts of several nations to defeat IS and bring a semblance of normalcy to the region. However, less organised but equally deadly ‘chapters’ of the jihadist franchise have sprung up in various other regions of the world, including Afghanistan, Yemen and parts of Africa. In a recent episode in the African country of Mozambique, the local IS affiliate once again proved that if this band of bloodthirsty militants is allowed to organise anywhere in the world, chaos and disorder are likely to follow. Active in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, the terrorists have murdered a large number of people in the gas-rich region, with at least a dozen beheaded earlier this week. While the militants call themselves Al Shabab, they are not to be confused with a similar terrorist outfit active in Somalia.
Experts familiar with the situation in Mozambique are of the view that pre-existing problems in the region have aided the rise of militants. The area they are active in is rich in hydrocarbon wealth, but little of this has reached the local population. Using the disaffection to their advantage, the local IS fighters have taken on the Mozambican state with intense ferocity. In the short term, the terrorist threat must be nipped in the bud before it transforms into an uncontrollable ogre. The lessons from Syria and Iraq must not be forgotten, and complacency is not a viable option in this situation. In the longer term, Mozambique must address the socioeconomic problems that have allowed IS to establish a foothold in the country. As experiences elsewhere have shown, a successful counterterrorism strategy needs governments to defeat such armed actors before they can challenge the state, as well as a deeper understanding of the underlying causes that feed militancy.
Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2021