ISIS Threatens South Africa: A New Front?

Previous Grey Dynamics articles explored the intensifying insurgency in Mozambique and the Tanzanian link, analysing a potential ‘hijacking’ of a local conflict by ISIS, indicating the terror groups broader strategy in Africa. On July 3rd, the groups publication platform (Al-Naba), for the first time not only warned Western countries that investments in the LNG projects (See below) were at risk but threatened to open a new fighting front within South Africa. 

  • A local industry expert in an interview with Grey Dynamics advised 25-35% of Afghan heroin flows through Mozambique. The insurgency is almost certainly alarmed by the prospect of international intervention. This will highly likely damage their established ease of doing business. 
  • The hijacked ISIS insurgency is now directly threatening South Africa over a potential South African Development Community (SADC) military intervention in Mozambique to address the growing power of the insurgency. 
  • An additional Grey Dynamics interview with Liesl Louw-Vaudran, senior Institute for Security Studies Africa analyst, highlighted multiple influences including the ‘Tanzanian connection’. Until high unemployment and marginalisation is addressed, the conditions for a sustained insurgency are likely to continue.  
  • The insurgents highly likely have the capability of materialising the threat of successful attacks on LNG projects. This propaganda also highlights local grievances and poor governance, likely indicating a stronger strategic ambition in the region.

With a media blackout and journalists deemed ‘persona non grata’ in the region, Grey Dynamics utilises both open source and human intelligence to analyse the situation. 

Mozambique's Gas Reserves

ISIS: The Culprits

Since October 2017, 472 organized violent events occurred in Cabo Delgado, with at least 1,000 dead and 200,000 people displaced. Compared to last year, there has been a 300% increase in attacks, focused on the Cabo Delgado region. These intend to destabilize the government and international investment, stimulating ideal conditions for a sustained insurgency.

Some exiled Islamic who hate preachers from Tanzania have given birth to Al Sunna wa Jummah (ASWJ). Local warnings to officials over a growing threat were largely not addressed, with rumours of Islamic State (IS) involvement. In 2020, we witness IS flags hand in hand with sophisticated attacks on civilians, government assets, and private military contractors.

The hijacking of a home-grown insurgency indicates the growing ambition of IS in Africa, following defeat in Iraq and Syria. Resurgence and partnership are evident within insurgencies in Mozambique. These take the form of Islamic State Central Africa Province and IS-affiliated Islamic State in Greater Sahara. 

ISIS’s Lucrative Business

The flow of illicit trafficking networks through Mozambique is a lifeline for the insurgency. This makes the insurgency not only sustainable but profitable. This is highly likely a motivating factor for IS involvement, an investment the terror group will fiercely protect. A local industry expert in an interview with Grey Dynamics, advised 25-35% of Afghan heroin flows through the region.

This not only stimulates the homegrown Jihad but reverberates in supporting the Taliban’s organized crime elements. Alluvial gold reserves, illegal ruby mining, human trafficking, wildlife trafficking, as well as large-scale illegal timber trafficking. These all are lucrative revenue flowing through Mozambique’s largely unregulated shoreline and borders. The threat of international involvement in the form of South Africa and stabilizing security promoted by foreign investments in the LNG projects are a critical threat to the insurgency and its finance operations, evident by the first IS publication directly against the two. 

Illicit trade routes in South East Africa. ISIS Threatens South Africa: A New Front?

The Tanzanian Connection

52 ASJW members arrested in 2018 were Tanzanian, with 120 arrests of Tanzanian nationals partnered with Interpol anti-terror operations. 2016 witnessed Islamic State’s East Africa branch posting a video of fighters in the Tanga border in the Mtwara district. The Mtwara border region is a highly likely cross-border operating point along the Ruvuma Ravine. This gateway has even facilitated the exporting of Al-Shabaab recruits to Somalia. Islamic hate preachers such as Ponda Issa Ponda had to flee Mombasa to settle in Tanzania.

Predicted LNG Statistics for Tanzania & Mozambique

Following a similar state crackdown in 2015, many then found sanctuary in Cabo Delgado, along with the ‘new’ Tanzanian members. This not only supports the Tanzanian connection assessment but highlights a cross border insurgency that risks a spillover. A worrying reality is Tanzania’s own LNG project, located just 107km from Mtwara. The region has similar ethnic, linguistic, and religious similarities with Northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado. These all along with almost identical local grievances and now shared unrest against the LNG projects.

ASWJ's Area of Operations

New War Front?

The ramping up of the insurgency has already witnessed the intervention of the Russian Wagner Group and South African Dyck Advisory Group PMCs. A largely ineffective approach. SADC publicly committed to supporting Mozambique against the insurgency, yet it is still unclear how this support will be provided. The insurgents, by recapturing the coastal town of Mocimboa da Praia in June, and a series of amphibious and landward attacks displayed the group’s heightened capacity.

A capacity which it now threatens to use against South Africa in a new front within its borders. While it is unlikely that a new fighting front would go beyond terror attacks, this is somewhat inevitable as IS extends its strategic hold in the region. Threatening the foreign investment of Western companies such as French gas giant Total, the group has a realistic probability of shifting tactics to target LNG assets and operations to destabilise the region further in the next 0-6 months.

South Africa has a time-sensitive opportunity to stimulate a SADC response, which will require not only military intervention in Cabo Delgado but a regional development initiative to undermine the ideal conditions for terrorism. While South Africa and SADC member states delay in responding, the insurgents continue to consolidate power, which will likely spill out into neighbouring countries if left unopposed. 

This article was first published in may 2020

Eren Ersozoglu
Eren Ersozoglu
Eren Ersozoglu is an analyst at Grey Dynamics. A former history graduate from Coventry University with a focus on links between terrorism and organised crime and intelligence and security studies graduate at Brunel University.

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