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FILE PHOTO: Burnt-out huts are seen at the scene of an armed attack in Chitolo village, Mozambique, July 10, 2018. Picture taken July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

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MAPUTO (Reuters) - Mozambique's security forces have identified six men they regard as the ringleaders of a nascent Islamist insurgency that has killed over 100 people in the north, and called on local people to help capture them, news agency Lusa reported on Monday.

Bernardino Rafael, chief of police, said Abdul Faizal, Abdul Remane, Abdul Raim, Nuno Remane, Ibn Omar and a sixth known only as Salimo, were leading attacks in Cabo Delgado - a poor province on the border with Tanzania where companies are developing one of the biggest gas finds in a decade.

The names are the first clear sign that authorities have detailed information about the people behind the attacks that began last October and have grown into the potential beginnings of an Islamist threat. Previously, authorities would only say that attacks had been carried out by "unknowns."  

The move also comes as security sources say Mozambican forces are carrying out a series of large offensives to try and fatally weaken the insurgency.

"We regard these as the ringleaders," Rafael said during a visit to Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado. The comments were aired on national radio, according to Lusa.

"We ask anyone that has any possible information that could lead to the capture of these names we've indicated to contact the Police of the Republic of Mozambique," he added.

The group behind the attacks goes by the name Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama, or "followers of the prophetic tradition."

Its aim is to impose a radical form of Islam as an antidote to what it regards as corrupt, elitist rule that has broadened gaping inequality. Its activities have drawn comparisons with the start of Boko Haram in Nigeria.

(Writing by Stephen Eisenhammer, Editing by James Macharia, William Maclean)

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Reuters