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In the news: Mozambique militants occupy town in escalation of violence

‘An important threshold has been crossed.’

A displaced family of 17
A displaced family of 17 who fled their home after insurgents set fire to parts of their village last October. (Philip Kleinfeld/TNH)

A suspected Islamist insurgent group seized a key town in Mozambique’s northernmost Cabo Delgado region on Monday – a sign that the militants, who usually only attack smaller villages, are growing increasingly strong.

Local media reports suggested there had been at least two civilian casualties, while pictures circulating online showed destroyed infrastructure in Mocimboa da Praia – a district capital where the militants launched their first attack in the region in October 2017.

Read more → Fear, hunger, and mystery killers stalk Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado

Jasmine Opperman, Africa analyst at the conflict monitoring group ACLED, told The New Humanitarian that the insurgents attacked the town from land and sea, released prisoners from a local police station, and looted cash from banks.

It wasn’t clear how much of Mocimboa da Praia the militants still occupied on Tuesday, but Opperman said there were still reports of militants present in the area and added that the attack indicates that larger towns – where many displaced people have congregated – are no longer safe.

“What is clear is that insurgents have seriously improved their capability, coordination, and tactics,” Opperman said. “An important threshold has been crossed.”

More than two years of militancy in the gas-rich province has intensified dramatically in recent months, according to the UN, displacing at least 100,000 people and leaving hundreds dead in an area still struggling in the aftermath of the strongest storm ever to hit the African continent – last April’s Cyclone Kenneth.

Read more → Read More > Who's behind the violence in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado?

So-called Islamic State has claimed some of the attacks but little is known about the militants, and analysts believe there are multiple cells operating with different motives and ideological positions.

TNH spent a week in the region in November, reporting on the humanitarian fallout and the poorly understood attackers. Read our coverage here.

– Philip Kleinfeld

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