Nairobi, Apr 3 (EFE) .- On the edge of paradisiacal beaches and gas fields a horror nests in northern Mozambique: the jihadist group Al Shabab, whose bloody attack on the city of Palma on March 24 has placed it in the international candlestick.
Shouting “Allah is the greatest!”, Hundreds of terrorists – according to witnesses – sowed terror in Palma, a coastal city located in the province of Cabo Delgado, bordering Tanzania.
The jihadists attacked shops, banks, military posts and took over the city, of just over 40,000 inhabitants, which was left deserted after the desperate flight of its residents.
DECAPITATED BODIES IN THE STREETS
Videos posted on social networks by locals give an account of the massacre: decapitated and dismembered bodies, as well as arms, heads and torsos scattered through the streets.
The confusion of the siege still makes it difficult to know the complete balance of victims. So far, the Government of Mozambique has confirmed the “murder of dozens of defenseless people”, as thousands have been forcibly displaced.
The Army admitted on Tuesday that it still does not control the city, where it continues its “cleaning operation” to eliminate possible sources of jihadist resistance, and the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization tried to make the most of propaganda by claiming the offensive on Monday .
The group Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah (“Adepts of the prophetic tradition”), known to the local population as Al Shabab (“Youth”, in Arabic), which is not related to the homonymous jihadist organization of Somalia, terrorizes Cabo Delgado since October 2017, when he attacked a police station by surprise.
However, no violent act has attracted as much international attention as the Palma attack. This fact is explained because the city stands close to a multimillion-dollar gas project led by the French oil company Total, which has been forced to suspend the operations that it was going to resume there this week.
The deceased, in fact, include foreign contractors who worked in the area on natural gas projects, the manna with which Mozambique wants to boost its development, as it has the third largest reserves in Africa, after Nigeria and Algeria.
The attack has also been surprising because it denotes “a level of coordination and sophistication that we had not seen before,” South African Jasmine Opperman, senior analyst of the Armed Conflict Location and Events Data Project (ACLED), explains to Efe.
“We are facing an insurgency with momentum,” Opperman emphasizes, warning that, without “immediate action” against the jihadists, “there will soon be similar attacks.”
FROM MACHETE TO ASSAULT RIFLE
When the insurgents – who seek to create an Islamic state in Cabo Delgado – inaugurated their “reign of terror”, they used the only weapon they had, their machetes, and beheaded local leaders whom they accused of allying with the governmental Mozambique Liberation Front. (Frelimo) to steal the natural wealth of the province (rubies and natural gas), from which the population does not benefit.
In Palma, the attackers carried AK-47 assault rifles, rocket launchers and heavy mortars, according to Lionel Dyck, director of the South African private military company Dyck Advisory Group, which supports the Mozambican government against Al Shabab and whose helicopter gunships were used to evacuate the civilians trapped in the city.
This attack “may mark a before and after” in the conflict, as it shows “an important tactical capacity” that should “draw the attention” of Mozambique and the international community, the honorary consul of Spain in the also coastal city told Efe. from Pemba, capital of Cabo Delgado, Jesús Pérez Marty.
Since 2017, Al Shabab, initially a religious movement that emerged in 2015 and later radicalized, has caused more than 2,680 deaths (including more than 1,340 civilians), according to ACLED, and about 700,000 displaced in the province.
For the moment, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi shows little enthusiasm towards the involvement of international organizations such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union or the European Union, in solving the problem.
Despite this reluctance, the Maputo Executive lacks the means to “counteract the insurgency,” recalls Opperman.
“We need in Cabo Delgado an international, regional, coordinated force and a centralized leadership structure that acts and integrates land, sea and air operations to break the insurgents’ momentum and create stability,” argues the expert.
Furthermore, as Nigerian analyst Philip Obaji warns, “Lack of concrete action could turn Southeast Africa into an unstable region similar to parts of West Africa.”
BOKO HARAM LESSONS
Mozambique and SADC, Obaji advises, should draw on the “lessons” of the battle against Boko Haram, which was a “less dangerous” jihadist group until a “very poor response” from Nigeria encouraged it to extend its tentacles to Chad, Niger. and Cameroon.
For now, the United States, which recently designated Al Shabab as an IS-affiliated “international terrorist organization,” sent Green Beret special forces this March to train Mozambican marines in the fight against jihadism.
And Portugal, the former metropolis, announced this week the deployment of sixty soldiers to train troops to help stabilize the situation in Cabo Delgado.
But is the armed force enough to defeat Al Shabab? “The insurgency will not stop militarily,” answers the American expert Joseph Hanlon, who has been investigating Mozambique since 1978.
Hanlon emphasizes that the jihadists “recruit young men without work” and emphasize that “the government is robbing them of the future”, therefore “creating thousands of jobs” for the youth “would end the war”.
Although that, he adds, requires that “the gas companies and the Frelimo oligarchs that govern Cabo Delgado use part of their profits to finance that job creation and, so far, they have not shown interest.”
(Archive resources at www.lafototeca.com code: 13262553; 13262552; 13262550 and others)
(c) EFE Agency