SIXTEEN African countries have joined forced to drive jihadists out of Mozambique following a reign of terror in the country’s north.
Rwanda deployed 1,000 troops last week while South Africa sent a convoy of soldiers in what’s tipped to be a larger, multi-national task force.
The Southern African Development Community – an economic union of 16 states – is trying to organise a military response to a rise in terror attacks on the continent but how it will be funded remains a big question as many have a shortage of equipment and money.
Jihadists known locally as al-Shabaab have unleashed bloodshed upon the resource-rich Cabo Delgado province since 2018 and are responsible for some of the 3,000 deaths and displacement of 800,000 people.
The US government designated the group as a terrorist organisation in March and called it ISIS in Mozambique – however some experts say the group has no links to ISIS in the Middle East.
It’s also believed the name al-Shabaab is a reference to the Islamist group which brought down the government in Somalia.
‘WE HEARD GUNSHOTS’
Militants have capitalised on decades of neglect by the central government and battles over natural resources to capture land.
Mozambique has commercially viable deposits of coal, graphite, iron ore, bauxite and copper, not to mention gold and natural gas, according to Britannica.
Luisa Victor, a 28-year-old mum of five, was imprisoned for a month and made a slave by al-Shabaab in the country.
“I was chatting with a friend. Then we heard gunshots in the same hour. Everyone knows that war begins with a signal,” she told the Telegraph.
Moments later, armed insurgents stormed her Cabo Delgado village, burning down houses, beheading people and enslaving women and children.
“I was scared and shaking, and I was crying. I couldn’t look at them,” Louisa said.
“We saw them beheading men. They would hold them by the ears and tie them to a post.
“They would behead them and take the heads and bring them inside the house to show us. They said, ‘this is the work that we do.’”
IN THE LINE OF FIRE
The planned assault comes after jihadis killed more than 100 civilians in Palma, including a Brit expat.
South African mercenaries believed they found a British contractor’s body, though to be Philip Mawer, in the wreckage of a car and used an angle grinder to get it out.
A crack team of elite SAS troops were set to retrieve Philip’s body but were stood down at the last moment over safety concerns.
The Brit was helping build a 2,000-man camp for French oil giant Total when a maniac terrorist group seized control of Pemba city.
Philip had been missing since militants opened fire on 17 vehicles in late March as the convoy tried to flee a hotel.
ISIS-linked militants have been attempting to gain control of the north east region of Cabo Delgado in the country since 2017.
The insurgency has left more than 2,500 people dead and 700,000 displaced.
Some 100 militants, many with Islamic State flags, now control the mining town of Pemba near Africa’s largest natural gas field.
Around 1,400 residents were rescued by boats but witnesses said bodies, many beheaded, were piling up on the streets.
The attack is the latest in a series of atrocities carried out by ISIS fanatics in the African country, which has prompted the US to send its special forces there.
Elsewhere, British soldiers are in west Africa, where ISIS is attempting to set up a new caliphate while 5,000 French soldiers are involved in ferocious firefights against jihadists.
At least 13 countries on the continent have experienced ISIS attacks in recent times.
French expert on jihad Olivier Guitta, from Global Risk Consultancy, warned: “Africa is going to be the battleground of jihad for the next 20 years and it’s going to replace the Middle East.”
Thousands of troops are also engaged in the struggle to beat back the jhadists and on Tuesday, President Joe Biden was forced to order his first air strike on terror targets in Somalia amid a worrying rise in attacks across the region.
At the end of last year, the Pentagon warned ISIS was taking over swathes of Africa like it did in Syria and Iraq with “staggeringly brutal” tactics.
ISIS-linked jihadis have been beheading their prisoners and taking women as sex slaves in Mozambique’s forest.
Experts fear attacks, like the one in Mozambique, stem from local grievances from groups who then latch on to Islamic State and attract fighters.
One security analyst told the Mirror: “The problem is that once Islamic State was defeated in the Middle East and came to a halt in Libya its fighters had to migrate.
“Many of them moved into Chad and Niger and gravitated across to Mali, exploiting ungoverned space and an insecure government in Mali to form bases.
“Couple that with poverty, disaffected youth, civil wars and general dissatisfaction and you have an an ideal recruiting tool to attract very angry jihadists.
“It almost doesn’t matter if they are Islamic State – there has been fluid movements between ISIS and al-Qaeda and all the other networks and jihad sub-franchisees.”
A recent study by global risk researchers at Verisk Maplecroft discovered seven out of ten of the world’s most dangerous countries are now in Africa.