3 Ugandans held over attacks in Mozambique's gas-rich north

Mozambican police said on Tuesday they had arrested three Ugandans on suspicion of leading attacks in the country's gas-rich Cabo Delgado province which has been rocked by an Islamist insurgency.

The suspects, two men and a woman, were picked up in a forested area on Friday, with police saying their arrest had enabled them to shut down several "training camps".

"These are the leaders of the group of criminals who have carried out attacks in Cabo Delgado," said Zacarias Nacute, police spokesperson for neighbouring Nampula province.

The arrests come as Mozambique struggles to cope with a wave of jihadist attacks that erupted in the north in late 2017, killing more than 100 civilians and scores of police, and threatening government plans to exploit newly-discovered oil and gas reserves.

The violence has also forced thousands out of their homes.

Police said the three suspects confessed to belonging an al-Shabaab cell in Uganda but had insisted they were only in Mozambique to find their leader, who had been arrested there at an earlier date.

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Speaking to reporters while under police guard, one of the suspects called Abdulrahim Faiza said he was involved with al-Shabaab in Uganda but had not been involved in any attacks in Mozambique.

"I am not part of the groups that have carried out attacks in Cabo Delgado. We are in Mozambique to rescue our captured leader," he said, referring to the leader in question as Abdul Aziz.

Last month, prosecutors in Maputo unveiled a raft of charges against a group of five people whom they accused of leading a string of deadly jihadist attacks in the Cabo Delgado area.

The group included two Ugandans, two Tanzanians and a South African who died in custody last week under mysterious circumstances.

The violence in Cabo Delgado has been attributed to a group known in Arabic as Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama - although it is usually referred to as "al-Shabaab" despite having no known link to the Somali jihadist group of the same name.

Its militants are reportedly seeking to impose Sharia law in the Muslim-majority province.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has vowed to "neutralise" the threat, sending heavy reinforcements to the region to eradicate the jihadists.

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