America slaps sanctions on jihadist insurgencies in Mozambique and Democratic Republic of Congo

America slaps sanctions on jihadist insurgencies in Mozambique and Democratic Republic of Congo
Attacks by presumed Islamic State-affiliated militants on Cabo Delgado indicate the extremists’ determination to carve out part of the country for themselves to establish a caliphate from which to plan and execute further attacks in Mozambique and southern Africa. (Photo: supplied)

US officials have no doubt that violent extremist groups in the two African nations are affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The US has designated two Islamic State-affiliated insurgent groups in Mozambique and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as “foreign terrorist organisations” and has slapped sanctions on them and their leaders.

US officials said on Thursday that Washington was sure the two insurgencies were affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — which they also called ISIS-Core, even though some doubts linger among local analysts and observers about how strong the links really are.

Apart from the sanctions, the US is providing support to Mozambique’s government in enforcing its law against the insurgents and in imposing better control of its borders to prevent infiltration, John T Godfrey, acting coordinator for counterterrorism and acting special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, told African journalists in an online briefing from Washington. 

Better border control would apply particularly to the Mozambique/Tanzania border, he indicated, noting that the insurgents, some of whom are believed to have infiltrated northern Mozambique from Tanzania, had conducted attacks back across the border into Tanzania.

He said the Biden administration was continuing the counter-terrorism policies of the Trump administration, with a “keen focus on terrorism”.

Godfrey was sharply critical of the Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), a South Africa-registered private security company that is providing air support to the Mozambique security forces using light helicopter gunships. He said it was harming, not helping the fight against the insurgents. 

A US state department statement announcing the sanctions provides a revealing perspective on how Washington views the insurgencies in Mozambique and eastern DRC, their leaders and how they are linked to each other and “ISIS-Core”.

It said the US had designated the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — Democratic Republic of Congo (ISIS-DRC)” and the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — Mozambique (ISIS-Mozambique)” as foreign terrorist organisations and as specially designated global terrorists (SDGTs). It had also designated the respective leaders of those organisations, Seka Musa Baluku and Abu Yasir Hassan, as SDGTs.

As a result, all the property and interests of the designated organisations and individuals, which were subject to US jurisdiction, would be blocked.

“US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them.” Foreign financial institutions that knowingly conducted or facilitated any significant transaction on behalf of these groups or individuals could also be subject to US financial sanctions. 

“Additionally, it is a crime to knowingly provide material support or resources to ISIS-DRC or ISIS-Mozambique, or to attempt or conspire to do so.”

The statement noted that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (“ISIS-Core”) had announced the launch of the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) in April 2019 to promote the presence of ISIS-associated elements within central, east and southern Africa.  

“Although ISIS-associated media portray ISCAP as a unified structure, ISIS-DRC and ISIS-Mozambique are distinct groups with distinct origins.

“ISIS-DRC, also known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and Madina at Tauheed Wau Mujahedeen, among other names, is responsible for many attacks across North Kivu and Ituri provinces in eastern DRC. 

“Under the leadership of Seka Musa Baluku, ISIS-DRC has been notorious in this region for its brutal violence against Congolese citizens and regional military forces, with attacks killing over 849 civilians in 2020 alone, according to United Nations reporting on the ADF.  

“The ADF was previously sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury and the United Nations under the UN Security Council’s DRC sanctions regime in 2014 for its violence and atrocities.  

“The US Department of the Treasury also sanctioned six ADF members, including leader Seka Musa Baluku, in 2019 under the Global Magnitsky sanctions programme for their roles in serious human rights abuse, with a subsequent United Nations sanctions listing for Baluku in early 2020 under the DRC sanctions programme.

Separate reports have subsequently alleged that DAG has used improvised barrel bombs made from gas cylinders in its operations against the insurgents and that these may have also injured civilians.

“ISIS-Mozambique, also known as Ansar al-Sunna (and locally as al-Shabaab in Mozambique), among other names, reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS as early as April 2018, and was acknowledged by ISIS-Core as an affiliate in August 2019.  

“Since October 2017, ISIS-Mozambique, led by Abu Yasir Hassan, has killed more than 1,300 civilians, and it is estimated that more than 2,300 civilians, security force members, and suspected ISIS-Mozambique militants have been killed since the terrorist group began its violent extremist insurgency.  

“The group was responsible for orchestrating a series of large scale and sophisticated attacks resulting in the capture of the strategic port of Mocimboa da Praia, Cabo Delgado province. 

“ISIS-Mozambique’s attacks have caused the displacement of nearly 670,000 persons within northern Mozambique.”

In the media briefing, Godfrey expressed concerns about a recent report by Amnesty International that the private military company DAG had indiscriminately hit civilians with machine-gun fire and hand-grenades while attacking the insurgents. 

Separate reports have subsequently alleged that DAG has used improvised barrel bombs made from gas cylinders in its operations against the insurgents and that these may have also injured civilians.

Godfrey said Washington believed from experience elsewhere that private military contractors were less inclined to observe human rights because they operated outside official control. 

The US assessment of DAG’s involvement was that it was “complicating rather than helping” Mozambique’s fight against the insurgents. 

He also said that the US was taking seriously the accusations in the Amnesty International report that Mozambique’s security forces had also committed atrocities [in fact, far worse atrocities] in the war against the insurgents. He noted that the US had legislation that would allow it to discontinue cooperation with leaders of military units of partner countries who were held responsible for human rights abuses. 

Some journalists questioned America’s assessment that the insurgencies in eastern DRC and Mozambique were really affiliated to ISIS-Core, suggesting that these links might merely be propaganda put out by both sides. They also questioned whether Abu Yasir Hassan was really the leader of the Mozambique insurgency. His name has not been widely mentioned before.

Godfrey said Washington was sure of its facts, but said he could not provide evidence, for security reasons. 

He was also asked why in November 2020 ISIS had stopped taking credit for insurgent attacks in Mozambique. Godfrey suggested this might be a result of ISIS-Core coming under a lot of pressure in Syria and Iraq over the past few months.

As a result, the organisation’s media department had been limited in the statements they could put out, he added, without elaborating. DM


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