The Islamic State (IS) group has for the first time taken responsibility in an insurgent clash in Mozambique, but analysts are skeptical and police completely dismissed the claim.
A jihadist rebel group has been growing in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado since 2017, where many villages have been torched and more than 200 people killed.
According to SITE Intelligence, a company that monitors extremist activity, the IS issued a statement on Tuesday claiming they were involved in an apparent gunfight with the Mozambique military in Cabo Delgado.
“The soldiers of the Caliphate were able to repulse an attack by the Crusader Mozambican army in Metubi village, in the Mocimboa area,” said the statement, according to a SITE translation.
“They clashed with them with a variety of weapons, killing and wounding a number of them. The mujahideen captured weapons, ammunition, and rockets as spoils.”
Insurgents regularly attack villages, kill local people, sometimes beheading them, they then burn down houses despite a heavy police and military presence in the province that borders Tanzania.
Fernando Jorge Cardoso, an African specialist at the University Institute of Lisbon in Portugal, said: “There are Islamist groups in Mozambique that feel represented by IS.
“But this does not mean that there was a movement of armed men to this place.
“It’s good for the IS, because they can say that they are spreading, and it’s good for the local group, as they feel that they are part of a greater movement. It is propaganda, but it has some meaning.” Cardoso added.
Another expert on the Mozambique insurgency, speaking on anonymity said, the IS were unlikely to have any direct contact with local fighters.
“Islamic State is not in Mozambique… but they might have links,” he said. “Islamic State is struggling to survive but want to give the idea that they are active in Africa.”
Police have dismissed the Islamic State’s claims, which came as Muslims worldwide marked the holiday of Eid al-Fitr after the holy month of Ramadan.
“The security forces distance themselves from these reports,” police spokesman Orlando Mudumane.
“The information is not true. The police reiterate the readiness of the security forces to combat whatever wrongdoers do.”
The police and government have a policy not to comment on any insurgent activity, even if attacks are confirmed by local people.
Throughout May, 14 attacks and more than 40 deaths have been recorded.
Since October 2017, militant Islamists have targeted remote communities in gas-rich, Muslim-majority Cabo Delgado, however the group’s identity and motives are still not clear.
Attacks have lead temporary closures of voting registration stations ahead of October elections.
Lucrative gas fields off Cabo Delgado add an extra dimension to the insurgency as international exploration companies have been caught up in the violence.
According to local sources, 16 people were killed in a highway ambush on May 31, in the highest single death toll of the insurgency.
Attackers threw home-made explosives into a truck, then opened fire, this is the newest tactic.
Koketso Ramorei is a journalist and news editor of SADC News with years of experience in a number of genres including sports, politics and community reporting. He has worked for a numerous publications including The Citizen Newspaper and is a former editor of a Johannesburg-based off-campus publication called The Waldorfian Times.