ISIS group attacks exclusive eco island resort in Mozambique

Sep Mon, 2020 Hotel Attacks

On 9 September 2020, Islamist jihadist fighters on Mozambique’s mainland boarded boats in the middle of the night and attacked the exclusive island resort of &Beyond Vamizi and the nearby civilian-inhabited island of Metundo. In technical military terms, these were amphibious raids. These attacks were part of an ongoing Islamist jihadist insurgency in Mozambique that has increasingly gained traction since 2017.

The culprits have been described as Islamic State Central Africa (ISCA) and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa (ASWJ). Some locals and Mozambique soldiers call them “al Shabaab,” but this seems to be local slang. There is no evidence so far that Mozambique’s insurgents are the infamous, Somalia-based, al-Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab. Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation says that, in Mozambique, ASWJ refers to an Islamist jihadist group in Cabo Delgado province. For clarification, there is another group of the same name in Somalia that is anti-Islamist jihadist.

At any rate, aside from the Vamizi attack, some press reports say insurgents raided at least two or three other nearby islands, but these operations are unconfirmed.

Current reporting says, because of COVID, no guests were present at &Beyond Vamizi during the attack, and no civilians or resort staff were harmed. There was moderate to significant property damage, however.

The targeted resort

&Beyond Vamizi is in the Quirimbas Archipelago. Vamizi island is 2.31 miles off the coast of Mozambique. It is 8.88 miles long, one mile wide at its widest point, and .39 miles at its thinnest point. It has an airstrip and several small, crude anchorages.

&Beyond is a South Africa-based resort company with 14 properties in Africa, five in Asia, and four in South America. It is a premier hospitality company specializing in high net worth individuals, elite eco-tourism, and extraordinary travel experiences. &Beyond also has a large partnership program with hospitality companies all over the world, such as Marriott.

&Beyond Vamizi has six unique luxury villas spread out on the island that are incorporated into the local flora. The resort offers stunning coastal vistas, pristine beaches, and dazzling coral reefs. The villas are on small compounds that cost between $1,970 – $2,840 USD a night. The specific villas are:

  1. Vamizi Papilio.
  2. Vamizi Tartaruga.
  3. Vamizi Kipila.
  4. Vamizi Casa Marjani.
  5. Vamizi Casamina.
  6. Vamizi Suluwilo.

The Vazimi island attack

Because of COVID and heavy press restrictions in Mozambique’s ongoing war zone, says Human Rights Watch, there are few details on the &Beyond Vamizi attack except for the following:

Quick background – why did this happen?

The Africa Center for Strategic Studies says Islamist jihadists have been active in propagandizing and fighting in Mozambique since 2017. Radical imams from Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, and Uganda have spread Islamist jihadist ideology throughout the minority Muslim population in Cabo Delgado province (a northeast province of Mozambique on the border of Tanzania), and other areas. Some news reports assert abuse and/or neglect by the government has contributed to Muslim discontent there. Government critics say massive natural gas projects in this region have not financially benefited Muslims, which has added to locals’ grievances.

The French energy company Total and others have invested at least $60 billion in these projects. They are estimated to potentially make Mozambique the fourth-largest natural gas exporter in the world. Scores of governments and several international companies have vested interests in making Mozambique’s natural gas projects work.

Unfortunately for them and Mozambique’s population, the Islamist jihadist war there is now a full-blown insurgency. Times Live says the conflict has killed 1,400 people and displaced 250,000.

Since 2017, there have been scores of insurgent raids on more than 20 towns and villages, some of them bloody. Public threats and warnings by the attackers have accompanied these raids. Relevant examples follow.

On 10 April 2020, reports Club of Mozambique, Islamist jihadist fighters amphibiously raided Quirimba island, about four miles directly east of the port town of Quisanga, killing five and temporarily taking 60 hostages. Their targets included peoples’ homes, a medical center, a primary school, and Quirimba island’s administrator’s residence.

From 28-30 May, reports All Africa, 120 Islamist jihadist fighters raided the town of Macomia, 60 miles north northwest of Pemba. They attacked from three directions, freed their jailed comrades from a prison, and destroyed scores of businesses, including a small hotel. They killed 17 people, most of them civilians. Some people were killed after they failed to answer questions about Islam. One of their other targets was a mosque, presumably because it was not of the Islamist jihadist brand.

IntelligenceBriefs.com reported in July 2020 that ISCA warned South Africa not to become involved in the fighting in Mozambique, saying if it did, ISCA “would open the fighting front within South Africa’s borders.”

The week of 12 August, an estimated 1,000 fighters assaulted and seized the port town of Mocimboa da Praia and nearby areas, decisively defeating government forces in the process, says the Daily Maverick. (ISCA had apparently seized this port town several times before). Failed heliborne logistics operations by the South African private military company Dyck Advisory Group was reportedly one of the reasons behind this defeat. Following this attack, there were reports of beheadings, kidnappings, and raids on nearby villages.

After seizing Mocimboa, the insurgents then set their sights on Vamizi and the &Beyond resort there.

Other Mozambique resorts have been threatened

In February 2019, a couple at the exclusive Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort had to abandon their stay after only one night because, wrote one guest on Tripadvisor, “an Islamist militant attack situation happened near the hotel area.” The culprit was ASWJ, said the reviewer.

The Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort is located on Medjumbe island, which is in the Quirimbas Archipelago, just like &Beyond Vamizi. The island is 6.38 miles off Mozambique’s mainland. It is .84 miles long and .18 miles wide at its widest point. The resort has 12 beach villas and costs upwards of $1,000 USD a night.

Anantara is a Thai-based company with at least 50 properties in 18 countries. It is a brand known for luxury, exclusivity, and first-rate service.

Details on the exact nature of the threat to the Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort are scant, but the evacuation occurred at around the time of a flareup of violence on the mainland on 21 February 2019.

In this instance, Islamist jihadists attacked two convoys of vehicles belonging to the US energy company, Anadarko Petroleum, according to the private intelligence firm, Constellis. These operations killed one and wounded six.

Business Standard reports that, immediately thereafter, on 22-24 February 2019, Islamist jihadists attacked three towns:

  1. Matapata (one killed and beheaded).
  2. Quelimane (three killed – all beheaded – and 16 injured).
  3. Mucujo (four injured).

The first two villages are near the border with Tanzania, but Mucujo is 12 miles directly from the Anantara Medjumbe Island Resort.

It is likely that the increased tempo of Islamist jihadist attacks, the intensity of this violence, and their ideological motivation combined with the proximity of the Mucujo attack to the Anantara resort, and security personnel decided to evacuate their guests. If this was their threat analysis thinking, it was a good decision.

Takeaways

First, tactically, the amphibious raid on Vamizi (and other islands) was simple but highly effective. The attackers successfully applied amphibious operational techniques, and, by all reports, their arson caused significant destruction of the resort. Additionally, it is evident from the Vamizi raid and others like it that Mozambique’s Islamist jihadists are adept at amphibious operations. These tactics should be considered part of their standard operational procedures.

As an aside, insurgent and terror groups frequently use maritime approaches to assail hotels and resorts, and they typically achieve complete surprise and mission success. Muir Analytics has scores of terrorist amphibious attacks on hotels and resorts in its SecureHotel Threat Portal database.

Second, the strategic takeaway is less obvious. It is not clear if Mozambique’s Islamist jihadists are seizing and holding the towns and resorts they attack, or if they are conducting copious, distributed raids over a wide area to gather provisions, gain recruits, propagandize the population, and weaken the government. It is clear, however, that they control large swathes of northeast Mozambique. From there, they can launch operations against the rest of Mozambique (or other countries), including its hotels and resorts.

Third, the fact that Mozambique’s Islamist jihadists have attacked two hotels/resorts (that we know of) and threatened another indicates that hotels and resorts are part of their targeting regimen. Rank and file civilians are also on their targeting list.

Fourth, because of the above takeaway, and given the scope of Islamist jihadist violence in Mozambique since 2017, the attack on &Beyond Vamizi was foreseeable. Muir Analytics has distinct threat warnings and indicators demonstrating this issue in its SecureHotel Threat Portal database.

Fifth, all these takeaways combined indicate that hotels and resorts in Mozambique should be considered under significant threat by Islamist jihadist forces in country. Hotels and resorts in nearby countries should also be considered under threat. Islamist jihadists will frequently use one country as a platform to launch attacks against another, such as with Somalia’s al Shabaab against Kenya. Additionally, per ISCA’s July 2020 warning, any African country that sends forces to help Mozambique quell its insurgency will also be under threat. This includes those countries’ hotels and resorts.

In keeping with this threat warning, hotels and resorts in this region should increase security and make sure their insurance policies cover terrorist attacks.

In the future, unless Mozambique’s military and other security forces dramatically improve their capabilities and turn the tide against the insurgents, Mozambique’s security situation will worsen. Mozambique risks becoming another Somalia. Because of this, and because a massive and lucrative natural gas project is now threatened, there is a distinct possibility that regional and/or foreign forces – possibly even French forces – might deploy to Mozambique. If this happens, Islamist jihadists can be counted on to make good on their threats to attack those states that come to Mozambique’s aid.

Sources and further reading

Stars’ paradise isle in Mozambique overrun by ISIS-linked insurgents,” The Australian, 17 September 2020.

ISIS take over stunning islands where Daniel Craig and Bono holiday burning down luxury hotels and imposing Sharia Law,” The Sun, 17 September 2020.

SA resorts under threat as jihadists occupy Mozambique islands,” Club of Mozambique, 15 September 2020.

SA tourist resorts in Mozambique seized by ISIS-linked group,” 2oceansvibe News, 15 September 2020.

Mozambique: Vehicle attacked in Palma,” All Africa, 14 September 2020.

Islamists seize northern Mozambican islands: witnesses,” AFP, 12 September 2020.

Insurgents capture islands in Cabo Delgado,” Plataforma Media, 11 September 2020.

Mozambican island and village attacked by insurgents, ‘They fired three shots into the air. They came to steal food’,” Times Live, 9 September 2020.

Upstream to downstream: Mozambique’s major developments,” Africa Oil and Power, 8 September 2020.

Mocimboa da Praia: Islamic State insurgents recapture strategic port town,” Daily Maverick, 12 August 2020.

ISCAP in Mozambique cautions South Africa against military intervention in Cabo Delgado,” Strategic Intelligence Service, 9 July 2020.

Mozambique: At least 17 killed in Macomia attack,” All Africa, 2 June 2020.

Mozambique: Terrorists attack Quirimba island – AIM report,” Club of Mozambique, 13 April 2020.

Four beheaded in attacks in Mozambique’s volatile north,” Business Standard, 24 February 2019.

The emergence of violent extremism in northern Mozambique,” 25 March 2018, The Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

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