“This is a domestic insurgency based on domestic grievances,” said Joseph Hanlon, a visiting senior fellow at the department of international development at the London School of Economics, who is an expert on Mozambique. “There are loose ties but the insurgents have not seceded control to IS.”
He added: “This is not an Islamic jihad.”
Since militants overran the town on Saturday, the Mozambique military and contractors with a South African private military brought in by the government have tried to flush the insurgents from the town. But militants still control much Palma, including the town’s banks, government offices, factories and army barracks, according to statement the Islamic State released on Monday.
In recent days, tens of thousands of people have fled Palma for nearby areas, worsening a humanitarian crisis that has escalated drastically over the past year.
At the start of 2020, the conflict had displaced 18,000 people in Mozambique, according to the World Food Program. By the beginning of this year, that number had grown to over 600,000.
“The crisis had been escalating for some time,” said Lola Castro, regional director for Southern Africa for the program. “But at this moment we are looking at a humanitarian disaster.”
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.