The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack on Palma, a northern town of Mozambique, where dozens were killed, thousands forced to flee, and others remain missing. Fighting began last week between Islamic State militants and local and state authorities, with local police and soldiers reportedly regaining control of most of Palma by March 29th.
In a statement issued on the group’s Amaq news agency, the Islamic State claimed insurgents killed over 55 people, including soldiers and Christians, destroyed and took control of factories and banks, and seized vehicles. While the legitimacy of these claims has not yet been verified as communications remain severed, Omar Saranga, a spokesperson for Mozambique’s defense and security forces, confirmed that seven died when their convoy of cars was ambushed as they attempted to flee Palma.
Authorities in Mozambique said security forces were attempting to “eliminate some pockets of resistance” after dedicating three days to rescuing local and foreign citizens, according to The Guardian.
Others, however, say the insurgents remain in control of Palma’s wilderness.
During the attack, tens of thousands are said to have fled, according to aid workers in the region. Hundreds, including foreign citizens, were evacuated over the weekend via helicopter and boats, with some walking up to 31 miles to safety. Many were taken by ships to Pempa, the provincial capital, approximately 150 miles south of Palma. One British-South African contractractor, Nick Alexander, spent two nights crawling in the bush after his hotel was ambushed on Friday before he was finally rescued, according to Reuters.
Communications to Palma have been down since last week, leaving many friends and family members anxiously waiting to hear news of their missing family. Pemba resident Patricio Amade told Lusa, Portugal’s state news agency, “I have had no contact with my family since Wednesday, my wife, my sons, my mother, my brothers.” Lusa reported on Monday that hundreds of people who escaped Palma had arrived at the border with Tanzania seeking safety. However, Tanzania’s police told Reuters that no people were seen seeking entrance into their country from Mozambique.
Palma is home to a multibillion-dollar natural gas project run by Total, a French energy company. The company called off its continuation of construction at its $20 billion development following the attack, saying it would reduce its workforce to a “strict minimum.” In January, Total pulled out the majority of its workforce as a result of security concerns.
The country’s Cabo Delgado province has struggled for years with insurgents. The three-year insurgency in this province has resulted in more than 2,600 dead and an estimated 670,000 displaced according to the UN.
The growing sophistication and military capabilities of these insurgents raises significant concerns on Mozambique’s ability to not only protect its citizens but also guarantee the security of its multibillion-dollar gas projects. If these projects continue to be put on hold or if the workforce remains at a diminished capacity, this may result in serious repercussions for the country’s economic stability.
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