The Islamic State’s Geopolitical Agenda in The Horn of Africa: The Growing Threat of Terrorism in Mozambique.

Mozambique army
Mozambique army personnel is among the target of the Islamic State (Credits: Steve Evans, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 40 Issue 2
Author: Christian Tratzi

Islamic State’s activity in the Horn of Africa continues to be a security regional challenge considering the local escalation of attacks, especially in the Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province.

The resurgence of violence, conducted by the Islami State Mozambique (Ansar al-Sunna) hit both civilians and security forces and resulted in casualties and infrastructure destruction, affecting regional stability and investment plans, particularly in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) sector.

An extensive propaganda campaign accompanied the jihadist insurgency on the Islamic State media platforms, demonstrating the strategic interest in the area and the will to expand their influence.

Islamic State in Mozambique:
Background Information

Since 2017, the emergence of the Islamic State insurgency marked northern Mozambique, especially in the province of Cabo Delgado. The insurgency’s root trace back to socio-economic grievances, including marginalisation, poverty, and inequality, and the province – despite its significant natural resources’ wealth – has remained underdeveloped, with limited access to basic services and economic opportunities for its predominantly rural population.

The jihadist activity reflects a confluence of local and global question and interests the geopolitical and energetic control of the region. The Islamic State exploited the socio-economic disparities and ethnic tensions for their agenda, and purported affiliation with local insurgent groups escalating the conflict.

Through the deliberate targeting of civilians, security forces, and critical infrastructure, the terrorist group has caused substantial displacement and loss of life, instilling instability across the entire Horn of Africa. The Mozambican government’s efforts to contain the terrorist activity have had limited success in addressing security and development challenges posed by the conflict.

International and continental forces intervened in the conflict: Rwanda supported militarily and logistically Mozambique, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have also deployed troops to help stabilise the region.

Cabo Delgado represents a strategic area, particularly because of its vast reserve of natural gas, and attracted multinational corporations interested in capitalising the province’s energy potential.

The Islamic State took advantage of the situation to establish control over valuable natural reserves. However, the insurgency has disrupted major energy projects, including liquefied natural gas (LNG) developments led by companies such as TotalEnergies SE and ExxonMobil Corp., hampering investment and delaying economic progress.

The withdrawal of continental military support, which coincided with the resurgence of jihadi attacks, underscores the precarious balance between short-terms security and the aim of regional security and stability.

Besides security concerns, the conflict has precipitated a humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced from their homes, seeking refuge in overcrowded camps and urban centres. Humanitarian organisations struggle to meet the growing needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs), exacerbating food insecurity, malnutrition, and health risks.

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Geopolitical Analysis

Cabo Delgado’s energy wealth, combined with the political instability and armed groups in the territory, makes it attractive to groups and powers interested in controlling the area’s energy resources.

Taking advantage of political weakness and following a strategy aimed at expanding its influence in the Horn of Africa, as evidenced by recent actions in Somalia, from the beginning of February the Islamic State has launched a series of attacks in northern Mozambique, seeking to take control of important strategic areas and expand its operations and influence in Africa.

The attacks have primarily targeted the districts of Chiúre and Macomia in the province of Cabo Delgado, causing both local and regional emergencies. IS fighters have targeted Mozambican army positions in Macomia, specifically in the Village of Mokojo. Thanks to a significant propaganda operation based on the publication of pictures and videos, the Islamic State showed its desire to showcase its strength to both rivals and potential new members’ recruits.

However, the primary target of the Islamic State has been the Christian communities in the northern part of the country. The Islamic State has targeted the Christian communities in the northern part of the country, with attacks on villages in Chiúre and the killing of numerous Christians. These actions were in response to a campaign launched in an audio message by the Islamic State speaker Abu Hudayfa al-Ansari at the beginning of February, as a reaction to the conflict in Gaza.

IS fighters targeted not only civilians but also churches, Christian schools, houses, as well as government buildings. The assaults have also created a difficult humanitarian situation, leading to a refugee crisis and the flight of missionaries engaged in assisting the population.

Through its platforms and information agencies, the Islamic State has given significant importance to the issue, launching a significant propaganda campaign online. The weekly al-Naba magazine in the volumes 430 and 431 dedicated its front page to the attacks in Mozambique, demonstrating the interest in acquiring the status of a leading actor in the Horn of Africa.

The triumphant narrative, combined with the religious component of the conflict and accompanied by photos and videos, aims to highlight the strength of the organisation and the operational and structural capabilities of its military apparatus, whose operations have regained momentum after a period of reduced activity. The Islamic State Mozambique Province raise in the region, concurrently with the increase of activity in the Horn of Africa, might represent a risk both at local and international level.

Risk Assessment

The rise of jihadi terrorism undermines Mozambique’s internal safety and creates a situation of instability and insecurity in neighbouring countries. The Islamic State’s ability to target political and military positions and infrastructure, along with its capacity to attack civilian targets, shows significant territorial control by the organisation, capable of expanding its operational range.

The withdrawal of regional military support, coinciding with the escalation of violence, creates a security vacuum that insurgents may exploit to merge their control and expand their influence, posing a direct threat. A widening conflict and the Islamic State’s rise might lead to a humanitarian crisis and, consequently, a refugee issue and potential migration phenomenon.

IS regional advance and its increased territorial presence would also create an economic issue, affecting prospects for foreign investment in projects and infrastructure related to the region’s natural resource interests, especially in natural gas reserves.

Militants’ control of natural reserves could simultaneously increase the level of insecurity in the entire region, as it would provide the organisation with a significant economic income to finance its activities and propaganda. The extensive focus on propaganda could pose an additional danger to the entire Horn of Africa, as it shows the Islamic State’s willingness to expand its influence.

The potential broadening of its actions may affect both maritime routes and the matter of migration. The archipelagos between the Mozambique coast and Madagascar are significant strategic ports for both pirates and international powers seeking to exert control over the Indian Ocean region.

The involvement of the Islamic State in this route has the potential to jeopardise a significant portion of the trade associated with trafficking, as well as the overall maritime security in the region. The increase in local terrorism could also have significant implications for Europe, especially considering the migratory flow from the Horn of Africa that affects the continent. Particularly with Western military interventions, migration routes could see the inclusion of jihadists interested in performing actions in European territory.

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Islamic State’s attacks in Mozambique and the group’s propaganda published on this matter make up the main danger factor. The simultaneous insurgency in Somalia destabilises the entire Horn of Africa region and shows the Islamic State’s intention to expand its sphere of influence in Southeast Africa.

Most of the offensive has occurred in the Cabo Delgado region, an area rich in natural resources and natural gas. Islamic State may aim to control these reserves to secure significant economic income, as happened in the past in Syria and Iraq, which could finance the group’s activities and eventually lead to geopolitical control over certain areas.

Given the increasing levels of violence and the worsening humanitarian situation, it is crucial to implement effective strategies to mitigate risks, address security threats, stimulate socio-economic growth, and prevent further destabilisation within the region. International cooperation, targeted counter-terrorism efforts, and investment in conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms are essential to counter the Islamic State’s influence and mitigate the risks for Africa and Europe.

For those with an interest in acquiring comprehensive insights into the geopolitical dynamics of terrorism, we encourage you to reach out to SpecialEurasia by emailing We are ready to assist you in evaluating the possibility of acquiring a carefully crafted and customised report to meet your intelligence requirements.

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