Mozambique: Exploring Tentative Links Between Islamic State, ADF, and Ansar al-Sunnah
Brian M. Perkins
Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for an attack in Mozambique on June 4, the first such claim in the country. The attack was claimed by the newly minted Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP), which has also taken responsibility for a series of attacks in territory controlled by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The claim in Mozambique stated that its fighters repelled an attack by the Mozambican army in the village of Metubi in Mocimboa district and that its fighters killed and wounded several officers, making off with a stash of weapons.
The veracity of ISCAP’s claim is still unclear as is the accuracy of details regarding the timing and location of the attack to which the group is referring, which possibly occurred on May 28 when the Mozambican Army soldiers were involved in a clash with militants in Cabo Delgado’s Macomia district (Daily Maverick, June 5). The claim also referred to Metubi village, which is in Quissanga district rather than Mocimboa da Praia or Macomia (AllAfrica, June 6). Police officials have also refuted the claim, which has been a common theme as police officials commonly attribute attacks to unknown criminals rather than Ansar al-Sunna.
It is entirely possible that ISCAP had nothing to do with the purported attack or that no such attack happened as its claim fits their overall narrative and efforts to project growth in Africa. It is also possible that the confusion over locations between verifiable attacks and the details of the claim is a result of communication issues between those on the ground and the propaganda wing releasing the public statement. Regardless of the claim’s veracity, it does point to IS’ growing attention to Mozambique. Similarly, the claim raises several interesting questions and points to underlying suspicions regarding ISCAP’s presence in the DRC, relationship with ADF, and the mysterious insurgency boiling in northern Mozambique.
The insurgency Ansar al-Sunnah has waged in Mozambique has perplexed analysts across the world, and much of the conversation surrounding the group’s activity is speculation. Nonetheless, it is vitally important to explore even tentative connections between ISCAP and militants in northern Mozambique. ISCAP has seemingly made its way into the DRC through the ADF, or at least factions of that group that have trended more toward a hardline jihadist ideology that falls in line with IS. Meanwhile, the increasing evidence of ties between ADF in DRC and IS has also coincided with reports of ADF activity spilling into northern Mozambique from Uganda, a phenomenon not previously reported in that area. Most notably, Mozambican authorities arrested six Ugandan’s reportedly belonging to ‘The City of Monotheism and Monotheists’ (Madinat Tawhid-wa-I-Muwahidin—MTM), which is the rebranded faction of the ADF most likely to have links with ISCAP. The arrests reportedly occurred around May 2018 when Mozambican security forces raided a terrorist camp in Mocimboa da Praia, one of the main centers of Ansar al-Sunnah activity. Among those arrested was Abdul Rahman Faisal Nsamba, an alleged MTM member and leader of the Usafi Mosque in Kampala, which was raided by Ugandan forces for allegedly being a terrorist hideout with a storied history involving former ADF members (AllAfrica, May 9, 2018).
Aside from the more direct links suggested by these arrests, it is also possible that Ansar al-Sunnah is loosely linked to factions of ADF through smuggling networks that bring gold, ivory, and timber out of the Congo, Uganda, and Tanzania to coastal Mozambique. The arrest of Ugandans allegedly tied to the Islamist faction of the ADF in Ansar al-Sunnah’s area of operations, provides—if even just tentative—a potential link between the so-called ISCAP group in DRC and militants in Mozambique. Even if this connection has not been thoroughly established yet and the claim was false, IS is clearly paying attention to the insurgency in Mozambique and ISCAP is the most likely province to engage in outreach to eventually build a connection.
Yemen: How Development in Southern Yemen Affects the North-South Dynamic
Brian M. Perkins
The UAE has signed a $100 million deal to build a power plant in the southern port city of Aden. The agreement was signed between Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation for Humanitarian Works and Yemen’s Ministry of Electricity (Middle East Monitor, June 13). It is unclear when the project will start but it is expected to generate 120 megawatts and provide electricity to nearly 3 million Yemenis. The planned project is undoubtedly a positive step toward improving the lives of Yemenis, but it does bring with it a host of implications and second order effects worthy of discussion. This article is not at all intended to debate the merits of the power plant, but instead to demonstrate how such a project fits into the UAE’s longer-term goals and how positive development in southern Yemen will shift the historical north-south dynamic.
The UAE has undoubtedly saved and improved countless lives through much needed humanitarian aid and development projects, but at the same time, it is clear that the country has deeper long term strategic and economic goals for Yemen that these projects help serve. Among those goals is to establish a foothold at vital ports such as Aden and ingratiating themselves with locals as well as the government, which will be absolutely essential to achieving these aims. A similar but smaller scale approach has also been taking place on the island of Socotra, another strategic interest but one that has not felt the harsh effects of the war (Terrorism Monitor, May 7).
The UAE has been extremely calculating in the connections it has built in southern Yemen through its ties with the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the establishment of various security forces. Meanwhile, development projects such as the power plant have also coincided with its interests. As the war drags on there are important dynamics that will play out as a result of their strategic interests and involvement.
The most talked about dynamic is the rising call for secession among supporters of the STC and activists in southern Yemen. While southern secession would likely serve Abu Dhabi’s goals, it still remains a relatively unlikely outcome at this point in time, with some sort of federal system being more likely. The matter of independence for southern Yemen will be a stumbling block for any future settlement and could see a new violent conflict arise post settlement, particularly in view of disparities in development between north and south.
The power plant project also points to the inevitable shift of the dynamic between north and south Yemen. Southern Yemen has historically been marginalized in comparison to northern Yemen, with public infrastructure, development projects, and jobs always favoring northern governorates and people. The ongoing war, however, will undoubtedly start to shift that dynamic in favor of southern Yemen for two primary reasons—the disruption of longstanding northern patronage networks within the government and the devastating toll the war has had on the economy and infrastructure in northern Yemen. Southern governorates were largely spared the destruction northern Yemen has experienced and because there are no longer active fronts against the Houthis there, development projects have been underway for quite some time and will continue as the war drags on. Meanwhile, the north continues to be destroyed with no way of rebuilding vital infrastructure and homes until hostilities end. As such, when the war does come to an end, southern Yemen will be years ahead in terms of development and working infrastructure, despite still being plagued with its own problems. This fact will continue to feed animosity between the north and south whenever a settlement does come and will play into the calculations of whatever government does arise.
The UAE’s attempts to lay claim to southern Yemen and boost its economy will continue long after the war ends, and it is unclear who will be the main party to help pick up the pieces in northern Yemen, but the rate of development in southern Yemen will outpace the north. What is clear, however, is that the prominent political players in southern Yemen are unlikely interested in allowing money generated in southern Yemen to be used to help rebuild the north rather than keeping it for its own development. This fact will undoubtedly shape the outcome of any future settlement.