South African, Tanzanians among suspected jihadist leaders in Mozambique

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Mozambican prosecutors on Monday named a South African and two Tanzanians among leaders of a jihadist group operating in the northern gas-rich region, saying the group wants to create an independent state.

Jihadist fighters have terrorised remote communities in the gas-rich and Muslim-majority Cabo Delgado region for more than a year, staging brazen gun and knife attacks on civilians leaving over 100 killed and thousands fleeing their homes.

In court documents made available to the media on Monday, the prosecution said the group faces charges of murder, crimes against the state, inciting civil disobedience among a slew of other offences. It was not made clear when they were arrested.

But in October, legal proceedings began against some 200 suspected jihadists at a jail in the provincial capital of Pemba.

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All suspects, expect the South African, "confessed that the group intends with their armed actions to create instability and prevent the exploitation of natural gas in Palma, and later create an independent state, which annexes the districts of the northern region of Cabo Delgado and the south of ...Tanzania", according to the charge sheet.

It named the South African as Andre Mayer Hanekom, 60, and the Tanzanians as Chafim Mussa and Adamu Nhaungwa Yangue.

Hanekom, 60, was formally arrested in August in a hospital after being seized by the military from a restaurant in the gas industry hub town of Palma. He had tried to resist, was shot in the shoulder and ended up in hospital where he was arrested, according to local police reports.

Affectionately referred to as "baba mzungo" which translates to "white father", Hanekom was responsible for the group's logistics, including payment of monthly salaries equivalent to $160 and provision of medicines.

Machetes, arrows and gunpowder were found at the home of Hanekom, who has been operating a maritime business in Palma.

The court papers list several attacks linked to the five leaders, who include two Mozambicans.

One of the attacks was staged on October 5, 2017, in the town of Mocimboa da Praia, hitting a police station and a police post.

Three officers were killed in the attacks, and arms and ammunition were stolen.

Originally known as Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama - Arabic for "followers of the prophet" - the group is commonly referred to by locals and officials as "Al-Shabaab," although it has 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.

President Filipe Nyusi has deployed heavy reinforcements to the region and vowed to eradicate the extremist group.

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