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03/19/2021 United States (International Christian Concern) – The United States launched a small program this week to train Mozambican soldiers as they battle an extremist insurgency building momentum in the northeastern province of Cabo Delgado. The group, referred to locally as Al-Shabab despite not being tied to nearby Somalia’s Al-Shabaab terrorist group, is responsible for at least 2,000 deaths and the displacement of well over 600,000 civilians in the region.

The American training program is limited in size and scope—the New York Times reports that no more than a dozen Army Green Berets will be involved. They are not expected to directly take part in the fighting. This type of capacity-building program is fairly common around the world, particularly among allies in Africa fighting terror groups.

Al-Shabab promotes a radical Islamist agenda hostile to outside influence and seems to have ties with Islamic State (IS). The United States claimed a connection between the two groups just last week, going as far as referring to Al-Shabab as “ISIS-Mozambique” and claiming to have evidence of a direct link between Al-Shabab and IS leadership in Iraq and Syria.

Despite the United States’ official declaration, some analysts contest that Al-Shabab’s connection to IS is debatable. While IS has claimed responsibility for Al-Shabaab activity in the past, it seems to have distanced itself in recent months and has not claimed responsibility for any Mozambican attacks since last fall. And while Al-Shabab does espouse radical Islamist propaganda, the movement seems nearly as tied to economic motives as to ideological ones.

But regardless of the extent to which Al-Shabab is currently affiliated with IS, the threat of Islamist extremism is growing across Africa and includes many groups with clear IS affiliations. From Algeria to Nigeria to Congo and Mozambique, IS has managed to find new footing all across Africa, a continent where economic woes and latent pockets of extremism have created deep-seated tension and instability.

In many of these areas, IS affiliates target and persecute Christian communities, including in Nigeria where the Boko Haram terror group has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions. The Nigerian government has struggled to contain Boko Haram, though recent advances have helped to reduce its territory and reduce attacks on Christian villages in the vulnerable Middle Belt region of the country.

Al-Shabab is known to purposely target civilians—a recent report put out by Save the Children, a UK-based NGO, tells of children as young as 11 being beheaded by the group. Other NGOs have issued reports telling of similar attacks on civilians, including assaults on churches and clergy.

The Mozambican government has had little success in its fight against Al-Shabab and it recently came under increased scrutiny after an Amnesty International investigation found evidence that Mozambican soldiers and mercenaries from Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), a South African outfit, had engaged in widespread abuses themselves, possibly amounting to war crimes. Amnesty’s report claims that the army and police engaged in beheadings and that DAG fired indiscriminately at civilians and even dropped hand grenades into crowds from helicopters.

It is vital that the international community push back as IS fights to spread its radically harmful ideology across Africa. Capacity-building programs, like the one being introduced this week in Mozambique, are a vital part of the overall effort to push back against radical Islamism in the continent, but more must be done if the people of Africa are to live peacefully and freely. This includes holding governments to account for their atrocities as well, thereby fostering free and open societies where extremism has less discontent to capitalize on.

For interviews, please contact Alison Garcia: press@persecution.org.