The US government has designated the militants behind the Islamist insurgency in gas-rich Mozambique as a terrorist organisation and placed its leader, a Tanzanian national, on its terrorist watch list.

This decision is significant and reflects how the new administration of President Joe Biden, compared to his predecessor Donald Trump, is moving fast to try to cut off funding avenues to militant organisations throughout Africa.

The US State Department has also placed ISIS-Democratic Republic of Congo and its leader, Seka Musa Baluku, on its terrorist list.

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'Significant risk of committing acts of terrorism'

These designations are designed to expose and isolate groups and individuals, and deny them access to the US financial system, while at the same time helping law enforcement activities of US agencies and other governments.

“Although ISIS-associated media portray Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) as a unified structure, ISIS-DRC and ISIS-Mozambique are distinct groups with distinct origins,” said the State Department.

“These groups have committed or pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism.”

The US State Department said ISIS-Mozambique — which has many names, including Ansar al-Sunna, al-Shabaab, Ahl al-Sunna Wa Al-Jamma and Ansaar Kalimmat Allah — reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS as early as April 2018, and was acknowledged by ISIS as an affiliate in August 2019.

Since October 2017, ISIS-Mozambique, led by Abu Yasir Hassan, has killed more than 1300 civilians, while it is estimated more than 2300 civilians, security force members, and suspected ISIS-Mozambique militants have been killed since the terrorist group began its violent extremist insurgency.

Widespread displacement

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

Its attacks have caused the displacement of nearly 670,000 persons within northern Mozambique.

According to the US government, Hassan — also known as Abu Qim and thought to be aged between 38 and 40 — is a Tanzanian national based in both Cabo Delgado and Pwani region on the coast of central Tanzania.

All property and interests in property held by ISIS-Mozambique and Hassan that are subject to US jurisdiction are blocked, and US nationals are “generally prohibited” from engaging in any transactions with them".

The designation also means that foreign financial institutions that “knowingly conduct or facilitate any significant transaction on behalf of these groups or individuals could be subject to US …sanctions".

In addition, it is now a crime to knowingly provide material support to the insurgency in Mozambique, or to attempt or conspire to do so.

Cabo Ligado, which monitors the insurgency in Mozambique, said in its latest report that 1344 people have now been killed by militants with attacks this last week focused on Nangade town — located north of Palma where Total is building its Mozambique LNG complex — and the border town of Namoto.