The Islamic State group said on Monday that it had seized the coastal city of Palma in northern Mozambique, after days of fighting.
“Caliphate soldiers occupy the strategic city of Palma” after a three-day attack on military and government targets that killed dozens, the group said in a statement on its Telegram channels.
The jihadist group’s claim came after thousands of survivors of coordinated jihadist attacks in the city fled by boat to the provincial capital of Pemba, according to sources in the city.
Sources from the international aid agency said that between 6,000 and 10,000 people are waiting to be evacuated to safety after the raid on Palma that began last Wednesday.
Extremist militants raided Palma, a city of about 75,000 people in the province of Cabo Delgado that is home to a multi-billion dollar gas project being built by France’s Total and other energy companies.
The government said dozens were killed in the attack, including seven people who were ambushed during an operation to evacuate them from a hotel where they had sought refuge.
A South African is among those killed, his family said.
The attack is the closest so far to the major gas project since an Islamist uprising broke out across northern Mozambique in October 2017.
The attack forced foreign workers and locals to take refuge at a heavily guarded gas plant located on the Afungi Peninsula – 10 km (six miles) from Palma, on the Indian Ocean coast south of Tanzania’s border.
Operations are underway to move them to Pemba, about 250 kilometers south of Palma.
Sea Star, a large passenger ship, arrived in Pemba on Sunday with about 1,400 people, mostly workers including total employees.
Another ship arrived in Pemba on Sunday afternoon and was released on Monday morning, according to an official from an international aid organization operating in the city.
“The authorities state that there will be a boat that will arrive during the day,” the source told AFP.
Thousands of other people were still stuck at Afungi, and some were expected to have arrived in smaller boats over Sunday and early Monday.
Police and military have cordoned off the zone, preventing access to the area where the boats landed.
UN agencies would hold emergency talks in Pemba to coordinate the evacuation and humanitarian aid for the new arrivals.
The Ministry of Defense said late Sunday that security forces have “strengthened their operational strategy to curb terrorist attacks and restore normalcy in Palma, after implementing operational measures focused primarily on rescuing hundreds of civilians over the past three days”.
Pemba is already packed with hundreds of thousands of other people displaced by the Islamist uprising, which has rumored nearly 700,000 from their homes across the great province.
‘Shot on the run’
The armed attackers fired on civilians in their homes and on the streets “as they tried to flee for their lives”, according to Human Rights Watch.
The violent, estimated attack broke a three-month break in Islamist attacks that are largely attributed to counter-insurgency tactics and the rainy season from January to March.
Although the extremist fighters launched their campaign in 2017, experts say they had begun mobilizing a decade earlier when dissatisfied youths began practicing a different type of Islam, drinking alcohol and entering mosques dressed in shorts and shoes.
The violence has now taken root and claimed at least 2,600 lives, half of them civilians, according to the US-based data collection agency Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED).
“We are extremely concerned about the impact that this new outbreak of violence has on already very vulnerable people who have been affected by years of conflict,” said the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
( Jowharwith AFP)