East Africa's extremist groups may be widening their influence to the south of the continent, deepening violence in countries such as Mozambique, according to a recent study by a US Defence Department think tank.
The Pentagon's Africa Centre for Strategic Studies says its analysis of the region found that a two-year-old Islamist group in northern Mozambique responsible for scores of killings was inspired by radical Kenyan cleric Aboud Rogo.
He had been accused of helping finance Somalia's Al Shabaab insurgency and was assassinated by unknown assailants in Mombasa in 2012.
The Mozambique group, based in Cabo Delgado Province, is known locally as Al Shabaab. Authors of the Pentagon report however caution that “there is no direct link between the Mozambican insurgents and the Somali militant group.”
Last year, a study by the same authors noted that a co-founder of the Mozambican jihadist movement, Nuro Adremane, reportedly trained in Somalia, as did several of his followers.
“The first use of an improvised explosive device (IED) in Cabo Delgado on March 20, 2019, which reportedly killed several soldiers, has raised further questions as to whether Mozambican jihadists have received training from outside operatives,” the new analysis states.
IEDs manufactured by Somalia's Al Shabaab have taken hundreds of lives in recent years.
Speculation regarding links to East African and global jihadist networks has also been spurred by the arrest of several Ugandans in northern Mozambique on terrorism charges.
Suspicion that East Africa’s jihadists are widening their territory of influence has also come from the activities of the Allied Democratic Forces, a terrorist group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo consisting mainly of Ugandan Muslims, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Mozambique's “Al Shabaab” group, also known as Swahili Sunnah (Swahili Path), has grown more destructive and less discriminate in its attacks during the past year, the report says.
In addition to beheadings, the Mozambican militants have attacked numerous villages, causing displacement of thousands of Cabo Delgado residents.
They have also reportedly begun kidnapping women and girls.