The US on 10 March designated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – Mozambique (ISIS-Mozambique) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and the man it says is head of ISIS-Mozambique, Tanzanian Abu Yasir Hassan, as Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT).
At the 11 March press conference, John Godfrey was asked to provide evidence of ISIS links to the insurgency and that Abu Yasir Hassan is head, but he declined. He would only say that they had secret evidence. “I would say that the evidence of ties between the ISIS branch or network in Mozambique and the so-called ISIS-Core in Iraq and Syria is quite incontrovertible” which is “why the threat is particularly concerning for us.” He added that “we’re quite confident” that Abu Yasir Hassan “really is the leader of ISIS.”
A subsequent US statement said “Abu Yasir Hassan, also known as Yaseer Hassan and Abu Qasim, was born in Pwani Region, Tanzania, between 1981 and 1983. The United States Government has assessed with a high degree of confidence that Hassan is the leader of ISIS-Mozambique.” It is believed that Abu Yasir Hassan was one of the most influential leaders of Al-Shabaab (as it is called locally) in Cabo Delgado, but before the group turned into armed violence.
He is one of the Tanzanian religious leaders who went to Cabo Delgado many years ago. He lived in Mocimboa da Praia until 2014/2015 and had links with radical groups in Congo. It is believed that he lived in Congo as well. But, despite US claims, it is unclear if he is a current leader of the group. Indeed, Inspector General of Police (IGP) in Tanzania, Simon Sirro, said on 12 March that their records showed Abu Yasir Hassan is dead. (The Citizen, Tanzania, 13 Mar) Godfrey made other statements that raise questions about the recentness of his evidence, in particularly stressing “a nexus between terrorism finance and narcotics trafficking in Mozambique that’s particularly problematic.” But all indications are that this is a myth – the insurgency has closed roads and beaches making the landing and movement of heroin and crystal meth impractical. So drug shipments have moved south to Nampula province, particularly Angoche, and no drugs are moving through insurgent zones.
Analysts speaking to Zitamar (11 Mar) said Hassan “is understood to be one of a number of leaders of the Mozambican insurgency, and perhaps the leader of the Supreme Council of IS Mozambique – but remarked on the curiosity of the US designating just one person, and a Tanzanian at that, rather than any Mozambicans. That helps Mozambique’s (and in particular President Nyusi’s) narrative of the insurgency coming from outside the country, rather than having local roots. But prisoners that have escaped from insurgents’ main base Siri, do refer to the commanders as Tanzanians. Meanwhile, the Islamist connection is something the regime has always tried to avoid, under pressure from Mozambique’s influential Muslim community.” The US briefing transcript is on https://www.state.gov/briefings/department-press-briefing-march-11-2021/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.