How VoxCroft Forecast the Latest Mozambique Terror Attacks

April 6, 2021 · 4 min read

On 24 March 2021, while the world was enthralled by a container ship blocking the Suez Canal, government officials, oil companies, and even private security companies were caught unawares by an attack by insurgents on the northern Mozambique town of Palma. Companies and organizations who had access to quality open-source intelligence (OSINT) were not surprised - in fact, they would have seen the advanced warning signs as early as 2017, and would have received real-time updates to the tactical situation in the weeks leading to the attack. The combination of AI and human insights which VoxCroft and other risk security analytics companies employ enables us to forecast otherwise unpredictable events such as Brexit and the Trump election in 2016.

VoxCroft Analytics has been tracking the developing threat model in this region since 2017. By September 2020, VoxCroft was alerting our clients about the growing threat in Northern Mozambique, especially as it pertains to the civilian humanitarian situation. By that time, VoxCroft analysts put a 6-month horizon for Cabo Delgado to be “Southern Africa’s largest and most severe humanitarian emergency.”

From our previous blog post: Cluster maps 1 – 4  Locations of actions attributed to ASWJ.
From our previous blog post: Cluster maps 1 – 4 Locations of actions attributed to ASWJ.

Like clockwork, just under 6 months after the forecast, the attacks escalated. At least 2,000 workers from French oil giant Total and the many companies contracted to build the liquefied natural gas (LNG) megaproject in Afungi Peninsula were caught up in the attack, carried by members of the Al-Sunna wa Jama'a (ASWJ), recently designated as a global terrorist organization by the United States. Reports state that at least 50 people have been killed, large parts of Palma have been destroyed and communications remain down. In addition, many of the town's 55,000 inhabitants have fled. Information is scant but indications are that the terrorists continue to control the town and many of the roads in the surrounding area.

Organizations relying on VoxCroft Analytics for their strategic, operational, and tactical security analytics had the benefit of weekly reports tracking trends in the area and real-time alerts sourced from the open-media space to give them advanced warning of this situation. VoxCroft’s Insurgency Escalation Model has been battle-tested to provide advanced insights on terrorist modus operandi.

Here are some of the advanced warning that VoxCroft’s Arrow intelligence platform picked up that our customers had access to:

  • Attacks have been steadily increasing since 2017 and the terrorists have become bolder in their target selection, moving from remote villages to district capitals. The attacks on the district capitals have been well-coordinated, sophisticated operations requiring advanced planning and communications.

From our previous blog post: Number of actions attributed to ASWJ
From our previous blog post: Number of actions attributed to ASWJ

  • In August 2020, the group took control of Mocimboa da Praia (about 80km south of Palma), a key port town in the coastal region of Cabo Delgado Province. Since then they have continued to carry out incursions into neighboring towns and villages as well as nearby islands, introducing a maritime component to the conflict.
  • Although there have been fewer attacks since December 2020, the group's inactivity follows a trend -- going quiet during the summer rains which makes movement difficult, and increasing significantly once the drier weather begins. This quiet period allows ASWJ to regroup and consolidate their fighters and weaponry. They were gearing up for a large attack -- Palma was that attack.
  • The insurgents had attempted to attack Palma in late December, promising to return in early January. The insurgents again threatened to attack in early March.
  • The pattern of behavior prior to the attack and the final execution of the attack was very similar to the operation against Mocimboa da Praia in August 2020. Insurgent operations along a key road connecting Palma to the next largest town had isolated Palma and the group reportedly infiltrated fighters in advance of the attack, allowing the group to launch a three-pronged assault against the town.
  • A severely under-resourced and poorly prepared army and police have not managed to make any significant progress in eliminating the group or identifying its leaders. Mozambique's defense forces lack the trust of the local population, making it unlikely that they will collaborate in sharing information about the whereabouts of the group or the identity of its members. A large contingent of the army has been tasked with protecting the LNG project perimeter in Afungi, leaving the population vulnerable to attacks.
  • The government continually states that it has the situation well in hand and has not appealed to the regional group, SADC, or any foreign powers for help. Instead, the government has contracted with various private military companies that have similarly not managed to contain the group.

VoxCroft's real-time trend detection platform and our analysts, renowned for their work in tracking insurgent groups, assess that ASWJ attacks will continue and become increasingly bolder, with a view to disrupting the extraction of LNGliquefied natural gas— the single largest foreign direct investment in Africa to date — destabilizing a weak and debt-ridden central government.

With terrorists operating as far south as Mozambique, companies, organizations, and governments in the region have a responsibility to understand the evolving threat model. It’s not enough to just follow the news or rely on traditional intelligence sources - VoxCroft combines the best industry analysts that work in tandem with a proprietary AI model to provide customers with insights and trends gleaned from millions of data points. This results in insights that are accurate, timely, and relevant and can be accessed through the Arrow Portal directly by decision-makers.

If you want to learn more about how VoxCroft can help you in doing this, book a meeting with one of our consultants here.

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