Mozambique has fired its head of intelligence and army chief of staff, two weeks after  the incident of attacks in the north of the country, the presidency said on Tuesday.

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In the early hours of October 5, a group of 30 men attacked three police stations in Mocimboa da Praia, a small town of 30,000 inhabitants in Northern Mozambique. They killed two policemen, stole arms and ammunition, and occupied the town.

They told local people they would not hurt them, that their fight was with the state and the police. They explained that they rejected state health and education and refused to pay taxes. The local population calls these men “Al-Shabaabs”.

Mozambique’s government’s response was swift. It fought back with forces from other districts and special forces from the provincial capital. The battle lasted several hours and left 16 dead, including two policemen and a community leader.

The attack came as a shock to a country already grappling with major economic and political problems. The incident is the first confirmed Islamist armed attack in Mozambique.

Information is still sparse and confused. But for now, with some degree of certainty that what happened on October 5 was not a Somali Al-Shabaab attack nor an externally driven international Jihadi plot. Nor was it a state conspiracy as some had suggested.

Rather, the attack appears to have been carried out by a group of local young Muslims who formed a sect in 2014 in Mocimboa da Praia which is known as “Al-Shabaab”. The group controls two mosques in the town and have told their followers to stop sending their children to secular institutions such as state schools and hospitals. It wants Sharia law applied in their area.

The fact that this first Islamist attack was carried out by Mozambicans makes the event no less shocking, particularly in a country proud of its sound and relaxed inter-religious relations. Until we get more information on the group and what triggered it to attack the state, it’s worth setting the incident within a historical context.

Meanwhile, Lagos Lidimo was dismissed as director general of information and state security service; he will be replaced by Julio Jane, previously the commander of police, Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi said in a statement. Graça Chongo has been dismissed as army chief, with no replacement named.

The presidency did not provide reasons for the dismissals, which were effective immediately.

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