March 28, 2024

Africa File, March 28, 2024: Islamic State Resurgent in Mozambique; al Shabaab’s Ramadan Offensive

Contributor: Josie Von Fischer

Data Cutoff: March 28, 2024, at 10 a.m.

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The Africa File provides regular analysis and assessments of major developments regarding state and nonstate actors’ activities in Africa that undermine regional stability and threaten US personnel and interests.

Key Takeaways:

  • MozambiqueThe Islamic State affiliate in Mozambique is massing forces, controlling territory, and operating across northern Mozambique at levels unseen since at least 2022. Islamic State Mozambique Province (ISMP) set conditions for this resurgence by adapting its civilian relations and military tactics in 2023, likely with guidance and resources from the IS regional network, to rebuild after regional forces inflicted significant military setbacks in 2021 and 2022. The ongoing and premature decrease in international support for Mozambique is at odds with this resurgent threat and would likely exacerbate insecurity. This decrease undermines critical US-backed peace-building efforts and jeopardizes international investment into Mozambique’s oil reserves that would help address the root economic causes of the insurgency and support global gas markets to diversify from Russian supply.
  • SomaliaAl Shabaab has launched several large-scale and complex attacks since the beginning of Ramadan, underscoring that Somali and international counterinsurgency efforts have not meaningfully degraded the group’s military capabilities since 2022. The Somali Federal Government (SFG) has given priority to other domestic and regional issues in 2024, which has undermined the counterinsurgency fight.



ISMP is massing forces, temporarily holding and governing territory, and operating across a geographic scope unseen since at least 2022. ISMP began increasing its rate of attacks in December 2023 and maintained a higher rate in January and February 2024 as part of the Islamic State’s global “Kill Them Where You Find Them” attack campaign.[1] The Armed Conflict Location and Event Database (ACLED) recorded that ISMP has initiated 57 attacks since December 19, 2023.[2] This rate is more than double the roughly nine attacks per month it averaged from January to November 2023.[3] The group carried out six attacks in the first half of March, putting it on pace to surpass its monthly average in 2023 despite its offensive peaking in February.[4] The group has sustained this increased activity despite Mozambique’s annual rainy season from January to March, when adverse weather conditions have historically caused attacks to decrease.[5]

ISMP carried out several significant attacks along the central coast of northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province that are notable for their severity and intent to hold population centers. ISMP militants occupied Mucojo town from January 21 to January 31, marking the first time the group has controlled a significant settlement since August 2021, according to ACLED.[6] ISMP fighters installed their strict interpretation of Shari’a during their 10 days in control, including measures that banned certain haircuts, alcohol sales, and clothing.[7]

At least 150 militants returned just over a week after withdrawing from Mucojo on February 9 and assaulted a Mozambican army position erected in the town, killing at least 20 soldiers in the deadliest attack on Mozambican forces since March 2021.[8] ISMP fighters occupied the town of Quissanga, 25 miles south of Mucojo along the Mozambican coast, several weeks later, from March 2 to March 16.[9]

ISMP simultaneously pushed into southern Cabo Delgado with more intensity than it ever has, further demonstrating its increased capacity and geographic reach. A detachment of roughly 200 militants began pushing south from Mucojo on January 19 and reached the southernmost districts in Cabo Delgado province on January 29.[10] The fighters carried out ISMP’s first attack in the Mecufi district since June 2022, before moving farther south into the Chiure district by February 9, where they conducted a nearly three-week reign of terror across the district.[11] ISMP carried out 11 attacks between February 9 and February 28, surpassing the seven attacks it carried out in its previous incursion into Chiure in October 2022.[12] ISMP fighters withdrew from Chiure and returned north between February 28 and March 6.[13]

Figure 1. ISMP Resurgent in Northern Mozambique

Source: Liam Karr; Armed Conflict Location and Event Database.

ISMP adapted its civilian relations and military tactics in 2023 to rebuild after regional forces inflicted significant military setbacks in 2021 and 2022, laying the foundations for this resurgence. An initial deployment of 1,000 Rwandan security forces and 2,000 troops from the regional South African Development Community (SADC) Mission to Mozambique inflicted severe setbacks on the group after arriving in Mozambique in July 2021.[14] Regional forces cleared ISMP from areas around the provincial capital, removed them from a district capital they had held for nearly a year, and began clearing their rural support havens.[15] The regional security assistance decreased the number of ISMP fighters from 2,500 to just 280 by the beginning of 2023, according to a February 2023 UN report.[16]

ISMP fighters began disseminating messaging to civilians in late 2022 to boost the group’s legitimacy.[17] These efforts became more concerted across the organization in early 2023 in a clear effort to build relations with civilians and portray the group as an ally instead of an oppressor.[18] The group’s tactics included assuring returning displaced persons that it would not attack them, purchasing goods from locals or offering to reimburse them for stolen items, and developing various counternarratives to government claims in order to highlight government shortcomings.[19] 

This shift in ISMP’s approach to civilians capitalized on the underlying socioeconomic grievances the Mozambican government’s military-centric approach failed to address despite the improved security situation. US and other partner training programs have not improved Mozambican forces’ counterinsurgency capabilities in key areas such as eliminating security-force abuses in northern Mozambique, which has been evident since the uptick in ISMP activity in 2024.[20] Rwandan forces have been the primary units carrying out key community-focused operations, such as mediating between civilians and Mozambican security forces, constructing buildings to boost local economies, and providing educational materials to local children.[21] The insurgency also destroyed over 50,000 jobs as of 2022, and locals claimed that those returning from displacement still have little economic opportunities.[22] This lack of prospects spreads violence by pushing people to join the insurgency or local militias.[23]

ISMP has also taken advantage of Mozambican and partner forces’ capacity and coordination gaps to expand its area of operations and support network away from the coast. ISMP fighters began moving in smaller attack groups and periodically relocating to new areas in 2021 to take advantage of the lack of security forces outside of coastal Mozambique.[24] These gaps hindered the government’s response to the most recent ISMP offensive. Joint Mozambican-Rwandan forces have only initiated engagements with militants twice since the offensive began, and Mozambican forces only retook the towns that ISMP seized after the fighters had already retreated.[25] Mozambican-Rwandan soldiers also had to deploy to Chiure from a neighboring district and were unable to degrade the freedom of movement of hundreds of militants.[26]

ISMP’s offensive shows that its adaptations helped it rebuild and supply its fighter base, undermining military efforts to contain the group. The estimated 350 militants that are operating throughout Cabo Delgado in 2024 is significantly more than the 160–200 battle-hardened fighters the UN said ISMP had in a January 2024 report.[27] ISMP was also able to wage these simultaneous offensives despite UN member states assessing in the same January 2024 report that the killing of an operational leader in August 2023 was a “significant loss” to the group.[28] ISMP’s cadre of fighters now poses a significant and more resilient threat despite being a fraction of the overall numerical strength the group enjoyed at its peak in 2021.

The IS regional network likely provided strategic guidance and resources that have supported the group’s progression and resurgence. Senior ISMP leaders traveled through Tanzania in early 2023 to meet with senior leaders from the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to discuss operational strategy and tactics.[29] Regional experts told German state-owned broadcaster Deutsche Welle in early March 2024 that significant numbers of ISCAP fighters are now using these routes to relocate to Mozambique.[30] The Mozambican president also alluded to IS “mentors” infiltrating northern Mozambique from Tanzania in February.[31]

The US Treasury Department reported in February 2024 that the IS East Africa regional office has “largely recovered” since US forces killed its leader Bilal al Sudani in Somalia in January 2023 and had recently sent money to the IS branches in central Africa.[32] The IS regional network based in Somalia has previously coordinated the travel of senior IS trainers and the distribution of funds to affiliates in the DRC and Mozambique to improve military tactics and capabilities as early as 2020.[33]

ISMP’s activities continue to reflect dominant IS global tactics and narratives, showing strong IS central influence on the group despite a lack of IS central command and control over ISMP.[34] The Islamic State’s Sahel Province also softened its approach to civilians and started using the same public relations measures around the same time as ISMP as it established greater territorial control in April 2023.[35] Both provinces mimicked the population outreach efforts that ISIS undertook in Iraq and Syria in 2014 by distributing pamphlets in Arabic and the local languages, underscoring shared tactics across distinct affiliates.[36] ISMP also heavily targeted Christians during its offensive, following well-established IS tendencies to focus on and highly publicize attacks on Christians across its provinces.[37] The group targeted numerous civilians and villages labeled as “Christian” and destroyed 18 churches over three weeks in February, marking the largest sustained campaign of attacks on Christian property in Cabo Delgado since the insurgency began in 2017.[38]

The ongoing decrease in international support for northern Mozambique is premature and at odds with ISMP’s growing threat, which could create a vacuum that exacerbates insecurity and undermines critical US-backed peace-building efforts. The regional security force in Mozambique began drawing down in December 2023 and is planning to completely withdraw by July 2024.[39] Regional leaders have repeatedly indicated that there is little political will or funds to extend the mission beyond the July 2024 deadline.[40] The EU has provided millions of dollars to support Rwanda’s continued presence in Mozambique, but regional instability threatens to degrade Rwandan forces’ effectiveness and capacity.[41]

An unrelated conflict in the DRC is increasingly preoccupying regional and Rwandan partners, threatening to further dilute overstretched security forces and create more gaps for ISMP to fill. Violence between Rwandan-backed rebels and Congolese forces has spiraled since a failed cease-fire in October 2023, leading the SADC to deploy the Mission in the DRC (SAMIDRC) in December 2023 to halt rebel advances.[42] SAMIDRC is straining the logistical bandwidth and political will for further supporting the SADC mission in Mozambique, especially given South Africa and Tanzania are the primary troop contributors to SAMIDRC and significant contributors in Mozambique.[43] The SADC and Rwanda are also backing opposite sides in the DRC, creating another potential obstacle to already poor security-force coordination in Mozambique.[44] 

Internationally supported humanitarian programs are also cutting support due to funding issues as security is deteriorating. The UN World Food Program says it has already nearly halved its caseload in the first three months of 2024 as compared to 2023 and will have to further reduce assistance to nearly a quarter of what it provided in 2023.[45] These cuts are happening as the ISMP offensive has displaced over 100,000 people since December 2023.[46] Lack of food and basic needs are also key drivers of insurgent recruitment.[47]

Growing insecurity will undermine US and other partner peace-building efforts that aim to provide more-lasting solutions by addressing the insurgency’s root drivers. The US is directly involved in these efforts, as Mozambique is a priority US partner through the Global Fragility Act.[48] The US government donated an additional $22 million in March 2024 to the already $100 million it has pledged to fund peace-building projects.[49] US officials say these programs aim to empower local government officials to deliver services, promote social cohesion, and increase educational and employment opportunities. These crucial efforts will be unable to take root if basic hunger and security needs go unmet, which has prevented half a million Mozambicans from returning home, displaced 100,000 more since December 2023, and forced others to fend for themselves in the absence of the state.[50]

A resurgent ISMP threatens international investment into Mozambique’s gas reserves that would boost the local and national economy to address the insurgency’s key economic drivers and help alleviate international gas shortages as countries seek to find alternatives to Russian gas. The current uptick in violence undermines US-supported plans to restart liquefied national gas (LNG) projects that investors suspended due to the insurgency. French hydrocarbon company Total planned to restart the Mozambique LNG project in early 2024.[51] The insurgency had delayed the project since 2021.[52] Total is urging the US federal credit agency to release $4.7 billion in guaranteed loans for the LNG project in Cabo Delgado, but the agency and other creditors are reportedly concerned about the security situation in the province.[53] France “strongly” advised against travel to the major port towns where Total operates in February due to terrorist activity, further complicating Total’s plans.[54] American hydrocarbon company ExxonMobil is also exploring construction possibilities for its Rovuma LNG project as a joint majority shareholder and expects to make a final decision on its feasibility depending on the security situation in 2025.[55]

The projects represent a significant source of international investment that would boost the local and national economy, which would help address key economic drivers of the insurgency. The Mozambican state owns a 15 percent stake in the Total project and a 10 percent stake in the ExxonMobil project.[56] South African–based Standard Bank conducted an independent review of the Rovuma project that forecast it would add $4–$5 billion to annual Mozambican government revenues and create at least 20,000 jobs.[57] Total estimates its project would employ 15,000 people.[58] Total also claims it has already invested $40 million between 2022 and 2023 to support the local economy, human rights, and regional stability for its gas project.[59] These efforts included agricultural, education, humanitarian, health, and job creation programs.[60] Total’s partners on the Mozambique LNG project also agreed to set up a $200 million foundation to foster local economic growth in 2023.[61]

The projects would produce significant quantities of gas that would help address the global gas squeeze that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Europe’s efforts to shift away from Russian supply have exacerbated.[62] The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported in January 2024 that improved global gas supply helped temper above-average gas prices in 2023 as Europe continued reducing its dependency on Russian gas, increasing global demand from other suppliers.[63] However, the IEA warned that continued project delays are a potential factor that could increase future market tensions and price volatility.[64]

Standard Bank forecast that Mozambique would become the world’s fourth largest producer of LNG if its offshore deposits are developed, positioning it to be a leading supplier to Asia and the Atlantic due to its position near several trade routes.[65] The ongoing attacks on Red Sea shipping lanes highlight the usefulness of Mozambique’s relative flexibility to route ships to Europe through the Red Sea or around the southern tip of Africa. The Total and ExxonMobil projects would produce up to 43 and 18 million metric tons of gas annually.[66] This greater production would help fill the continued gap between growing global production and declining Russian deliveries to Europe while boosting Mozambique’s economy.[67]


Al Shabaab has conducted several highly complex and sophisticated attacks across Somalia as part of a Ramadan offensive, underscoring that Somali and international counterinsurgency efforts have not degraded the group’s military capabilities since 2022. Al Shabaab has carried out three suicide attacks since Ramadan began on March 10, one on a hotel in the presidential palace complex in Mogadishu, another on a military base in the Mogadishu outskirts, and another that overran Somali positions in central Somalia.[68] The attacks have used at least five suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.[69] Al Shabaab also overran a Somali base in southern Somalia in a large-scale attack on March 21.[70] Al Shabaab has not conducted this many large and complex attacks in such a short span since its January 2023 counteroffensive to the SFG’s central Somalia offensive, and it has not done so over such a wide geographic spread since before the SFG offensive began in 2022.

The attacks are advancing al Shabaab’s various military and propaganda objectives across the country. The setbacks in central and southern Somalia significantly degrade Somali forces’ ability to launch offensive operations to degrade and defeat al Shabaab by the time African Union peacekeepers are scheduled to leave the country at the end of 2024.[71] Somali forces’ retreats also erode local confidence in the SFG and discourage locals from working with the government out of fear of abandonment and al Shabaab retaliation, undermining the government’s ability to win over the local population in contested areas. Al Shabaab’s attacks around Mogadishu reverse a trend of improved security around the capital throughout 2023 and delegitimize the SFG by demonstrating that al Shabaab can strike at the heart of the SFG while chipping away at its periphery.

The SFG has given priority to other domestic and regional issues in 2024, which has diverted attention from and undermined the counterinsurgency fight. The SFG and Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud gave priority to torpedoing a January 2024 deal between Ethiopia and the de facto independent breakaway Somaliland region in northern Somalia that would have granted Ethiopia a port in Somaliland in exchange for recognizing Somaliland.[72] Mohamud spent the first two months of 2024 rallying international opposition to the deal in bilateral discussions and multilateral forums.[73] Somalia signed an economic and naval agreement with Turkey in February that CTP previously assessed the SFG partially intended to deter the Ethiopia-Somaliland deal.[74]

The SFG has lately redirected its bandwidth from the Ethiopia-Somaliland deal to passing highly contentious constitutional reforms. The reforms aim to replace the prime minister position with a deputy president, abolish a unique power-sharing structure in parliament that allots seats based on clan affiliation, and institute a two-party system.[75] Several federal member states and opposition leaders oppose the changes and have criticized a lack of inclusion in the reform process, increasing political tensions and sapping SFG bandwidth as it tries to pass the changes before regional elections slated for later this year.[76]

These issues have degraded Somalia’s ability to maintain pressure on al Shabaab. CTP assessed that Somalia’s agreement with Turkey alienated the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is close to Ethiopia and competing with Turkey for influence in the region, contributing to the UAE decreasing financial and training support for Somali forces.[77] US officials have also indicated that al Shabaab has capitalized on the growth of popular anti-Ethiopian sentiment in Somalia to boost recruitment.[78]

President Mohamud has only visited the front lines in central Somalia for one day in 2024, despite Somali forces suffering significant self-inflicted setbacks, unlike when he spent more than a month stationed in the region in 2023 to support counterinsurgency operations.[79] This lack of activity highlights how Ethiopia and constitutional issues have occupied the SFG’s bandwidth. Domestic political tensions have also historically preoccupied Somalia’s fragmented security forces, signaling that a prolonged constitutional crisis will continue to create opportunities for al Shabaab.[80]

Figure 2. The Salafi-Jihadi Movement in Africa

Source: Liam Karr.


[2] Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) database, available at

[3] ACLED database, available at

[4] ACLED database, available at

[5] ACLED database, available at


[7] https://www.zitamar dot com/the-caliphate-comes-to-cabo-delgado;


[9]; https://www.zitamar dot com/insurgents-loot-quissanga-town-to-supply-macomia-base






[15]; https://www.defenceweb dot; https://www.defenceweb dot;




[19] https://integritymagazine dot;;;

[20];; https://cartamz dot com/index.php/politica/item/15861-maus-tratos-a-civis-agudiza-tensao-entre-populacao-e-militares-no-distrito-de-macomia; https://www.zitamar dot com/mozambican-marines-accused-of-indiscriminate-killings-along-cabo-delgado-coast;; ACLED database, available at  

[21];; dot rw/news-detail/rwanda-security-forces-in-mozambique-donate-scholastic-materials-to-four-schools-in-mocimboa-da-praia-and-palma-district; dot rw/news-detail/rwanda-security-forces-in-mozambique-handover-the-fish-market-constructed-in-mocimboa-da-praia-city;




[25] ACLED database, available at













[38] https://www.zitamar dot com/islamic-state-mozambiques-war-on-the-church

[39] https://www.zitamar dot com/beware-of-a-vacuum-in-cabo-delgado;

[40] https://www.sadc dot int/latest-news/deployment-sadc-mission-democratic-republic-congo; dot mz/bispo-de-pemba-preocupado-com-a-normalizacao-do-terrorismo-em-cabo-delgado

[41] https://www.topafricanews dot com/2024/03/19/eu-to-provide-20-million-euros-to-support-rwanda-defense-forces-in-mozambique

[42] https://www.sadc dot int/latest-news/deployment-sadc-mission-democratic-republic-congo











[53] https://www.zitamar dot com/totalenergies-bets-on-restarting-gas-project-while-counter-insurgency-operations-continue-2;;,110184131-eve;


[55]; dot mz/about/who-we-are/rovuma-lng;;  

[56] https://www.mozambiquelng dot




[60]; https://www.mozambiquelng dot





[65] https://corporateandinvestment.standardbank dot com/cib/global/about-us/news/standard-bank-study-outlines-rovuma-lng%E2%80%99s-potential-to-transform-mozambique





[70] https://hornobserver dot com/articles/2684/Al-Shabaab-militants-storm-Baar-Sanguuni-military-base-near-Kismayo



[73] https://shabellemedia dot com/somali-president-touches-down-in-asmara-for-two-day-eritrea-visit; https://thesomalidigest dot com/president-mohamuds-egypt-visit; https://mustaqbalmedia dot net/en/somalia-ethiopia-tensions-escalate-as-president-warns-nam-against-impending-invasion; https://www.garoweonline dot com/en/news/somalia/somalia-what-president-hassan-sheikh-discussed-in-italy

[74]; https://www.middleeasteye dot net/news/somalia-authorises-turkey-defend-its-sea-waters-deal;


[76] https://thesomalidigest dot com/puntland-rejects-hassan-sheikhs-bid-to-impose-new-constitution; https://www.theeastafrican dot; https://thesomalidigest dot com/farmaajo-sheikh-sharif-unite-against-constitutional-amendments



[79] https://thesomalidigest dot com/sna-withdraws-from-parts-of-mudug-amid-growing-challenges; https://somaliguardian dot com/news/somalia-news/somalias-president-moves-out-of-galmudug-presidential-palace-in-dhusamareb; https://www.garoweonline dot com/en/news/somalia/hassan-sheikh-returns-to-central-somalia-as-clans-mobilize-against-al-shabaab; https://somaliguardian dot com/news/somalia-news/somalias-president-arrives-in-baidoa-after-regional-leader-declared-offensive-against-militants; https://www.garoweonline dot com/en/news/somalia/hassan-sheikh-brokers-deal-in-southwest-s-political-conflict; https://somaliguardian dot com/news/somalia-news/somalias-president-to-travel-to-baidoa-amid-escalating-rift; https://en.goobjoog dot com/president-mohamud-in-galmudug-to-oversee-war-on-al-shabaab

[80]; https://shabellemedia dot com/al-shabaab-increases-attacks-as-elections-drag-in-somalia

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