New ISIS Cell in Mozambique? Expansion Claimed After Village Beheadings

isis mozambique

ISIS supporters have claimed the formation of a new chapter of the Islamic State in Mozambique, where 10 villagers -- children included -- were beheaded in a weekend attack on two villages near Palma.

One of the victims was reportedly the leader of Monjane village in coastal Cabo Delgado province, bordering Tanzania. The other village attacked was Macomia.

According to local news sources, the villages were attacked before dawn on Sunday. Inacio Dina, the national police spokesman, told a news conference that victims had "hideously" been murdered with machetes, including a 15-year-old boy and 16-year-old boy who had been “hunting mice to eat" in the early hours.

An October attack was believed to be the first terror attack in the country. Two police officers and 14 jihadists were killed in an assault on a police station and military post in Mocimboa da Praia. After that attack, the government shut down several mosques and made hundreds of arrests. Mosques that were determined to have severed links with extremists were recently allowed to reopen.

Mozambique is more than a quarter Catholic and about 18 percent Muslim, with smaller percentages of various Protestant denominations. The northern part of the country is majority Muslim.

The country has been developing recently discovered vast natural gas reserves. One Islamist militant group formed in 2015 -- al-Shabab, with no known connection to the Somali terror group of the same name -- is believed to be making millions of dollars in the ruby and timber industries. Al-Shabab is believed to have been behind the October attack.

But a new potential culprit emerged in the latest attack as, the day after, ISIS supporters were circulating photos of a handful of armed men posing with an ISIS flag. Only two of the six men pictured covered their faces.

The photos were circulated along with a promise that a pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State from the new cell was forthcoming.

In an audio message in November 2016, self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi addressed ISIS adherents in far-flung regions, including Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Indonesia, Philippines, Sinai, Bangladesh, West Africa and North Africa, as the "base of the caliphate," and warned that "kuffar [disbelievers] will try to split you."

Last October, a video circulating on pro-ISIS message boards purported to show the expansion of ISIS into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With a logo including ISIS' insignia and a rifle, the group called itself "The City of Monotheism and Monotheists," or MTM.

The jihadist who delivered the loyalty pledge in that video was the only one in the group who did not look Congolese; he spoke Arabic and declared that those in the lands of "kuffar" should migrate to the DRC for jihad. “I swear to God that this is Dar al Islam of the Islamic State in Central Africa," he said, swearing again that the group was "in the jihad."

ISIS hasn't always recognized groups of adherents as provinces, despite al-Baghdadi urging followers to expand their reach.