Overview: Mozambique experienced a significant increase in terrorist activity in 2020. ISIS-Mozambique carried out hundreds of attacks in northern Mozambique and at least two in Tanzania. In 2020, ISIS-Mozambique-related violence resulted in 1,500 estimated deaths, more than 700 of them civilian deaths, and the internal displacement of more than 500,000 people. ISIS-Mozambique attacks grew in frequency, complexity, and geographic scope, threatening the development of liquefied natural gas projects. The Government of the Republic of Mozambique (GRM) continued security operations against ISIS-Mozambique in 2020 and made numerous arrests of terrorist suspects. Reports indicated that the GRM contracted two South African private military companies to provide CT training and operational support and has increased outreach to bilateral partners for assistance.
With limited exceptions, ISIS-Mozambique conducted multiple attacks every week in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province. In 2020, attacks evolved to include complex and multipronged assaults, and attacks resulting in the destruction of public infrastructure, control of key roads, and sustained occupation of district capitals, in addition to smaller-scale resupply raids and attacks targeting civilians. Reports of kidnappings and forced displacement increased substantially in 2020, particularly in coastal areas. In 2020, there were limited and irregular reports of ISIS-Mozambique distributing food and money to civilians. ISIS-Mozambique conducted increasing attacks against security forces; in the second half of 2020, more deaths resulted from force-on-force events than violence against civilians. ISIS-Mozambique fighters are frequently reported to wear police or military uniforms and use weapons and equipment stolen from security forces. Access constraints and limited reporting on the violence render details of attacks difficult to verify.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: The following list details a small number of significant attacks:
- On January 24, ISIS-Mozambique attacked Mbau, Mocímboa da Praia District, killing 22 members of the security forces and injuring others.
- On March 25, ISIS-Mozambique attacked and occupied the capital of Quissanga District, destroyed administrative buildings, and displayed the ISIS flag.
- On April 8 in Xitaxi, Muidumbe District, ISIS-Mozambique beheaded and killed between 50 and 70 civilians.
- During August 9-11, ISIS-Mozambique attacked and occupied Mocímboa da Praia, Mocímboa da Praia District. Reports indicated between 60 and 90 security force deaths, more than 100 persons injured, and up to 40 missing. ISIS-Mozambique remained in control of the town.
- Between October 31 and November 8, ISIS-Mozambique conducted a series of attacks on villages in Muidumbe District. ISIS-Mozambique occupied the district capital, destroyed government buildings, and killed several members of the security forces. ISIS-Mozambique reportedly beheaded as many as 50 civilians over the course of the attacks, garnering international attention.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Mozambique’s current CT legislation was passed in 2018. The law provides for the punishment of anyone committing, planning, preparing, or participating in terrorist acts and stipulates punishment for individuals who travel or attempt to travel to join a terrorist organization. As of September the government reported a total of 122 convictions and 133 acquittals related to terrorism in Cabo Delgado Province. Those convicted were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 2 to 40 years for crimes against state security, instigating violence, collective disobedience, and possession of prohibited weapons. In December, Mozambique’s Parliament amended the Penal Procedural Code to increase the time a suspect can be held in custody without charge from 4 to 6 months, and the period of detention without trial from 4 to 10 months for crimes such as “terrorism, violent crime, or highly organized crime.” Periods of preventive detention of 12 or 16 months can apply to crimes “of exceptional complexity.”
In 2020, Mozambican law enforcement entities — including the national police force, the Rapid Intervention Unit, and the National Criminal Investigative Service — engaged in CT operations and activity in northern Mozambique. Mozambique does not have a CT strategy to guide operations, and law enforcement agencies lack the training, equipment, and overall capacity to proactively detect, deter, or prevent acts of terrorism. Though law enforcement entities operate as part of a joint task force with military counterparts, coordination, strategic planning, interministerial communications, and intelligence sharing remain significant challenges.
Border security is a challenge for Mozambique. Terrorists are known to cross the porous border with Tanzania, which serves as a recruitment and transit point for terrorist and criminal organizations. Government representatives from Mozambique and Tanzania convened meetings following 2020 attacks in Tanzania that resulted in the deaths of Tanzanian citizens. In November, Mozambican and Tanzanian police commanders signed an MOU to conduct joint CT operations, increase information sharing, and extradite terror suspects. Under the MOU, Tanzania announced the extradition to Mozambique of 516 persons detained in Tanzania for alleged cooperation or involvement in attacks in Cabo Delgado.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: There are no significant updates since 2019. Mozambique is a member of ESAAMLG. Mozambique is also a member of the Asset Recovery Interagency Network for Southern Africa (known as ARINSA).
Countering Violent Extremism: Mozambique does not have a CVE national action plan, as recommended by the UN Secretary-General’s Preventing Violent Extremism Plan of Action, but it publicly acknowledges the need for a holistic response to terrorist violence that includes community engagement in addition to security activity. In 2020, Mozambique launched the Agency for Integrated Development in the North (ADIN). ADIN’s mandate does not explicitly mention CVE, though it aims to support long-term development priorities that would address grievances and terrorist recruitment.
International and Regional Cooperation: Mozambique is a member of the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). In August, Mozambique held the rotating presidency of SADC and led several SADC summits on the situation in Cabo Delgado. The GRM increased bilateral engagement on CT assistance and publicly announced its willingness to cooperate with international partners, though no official CT support began in 2020 besides contracts with two South African private military companies. Mozambique is a member of the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism and has security cooperation MOUs with regional and international partners to include India, Malawi, Portugal, Russia, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United Kingdom.