The situation in Mozambique’s north is incredibly dire, as ISIS has tightened its grip further on the region.
Fierce fighting for control of Mozambique’s strategic northern town of Palma left beheaded bodies strewn in the streets, with heavily armed rebels battling army, police and a private military outfit in several locations.
Thousands were estimated to be missing from the town, which held about 70,000 people before the attack began on March 24th.
ISIS claimed responsibility. It said that the terrorists now control Palma’s banks, government offices, factories and army barracks, and that more than 55 people, including Mozambican army troops, Christians and foreigners were killed. It did not provide further detail on the dead.
In earlier March, the United States declared Mozambique’s rebels to be a terrorist organization and announced it had sent military specialists to help train the Mozambican military to combat them.
“ISIS-Mozambique, also known as Ansar al-Sunna (and locally as al-Shabaab in Mozambique), among other names, reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS as early as April 2018, and was acknowledged by ISIS-Core as an affiliate in August 2019. Since October 2017, ISIS-Mozambique, led by Abu Yasir Hassan, has killed more than 1,300 civilians, and it is estimated that more than 2,300 civilians, security force members, and suspected ISIS-Mozambique militants have been killed since the terrorist group began its violent extremist insurgency. The group was responsible for orchestrating a series of large scale and sophisticated attacks resulting in the capture of the strategic port of Mocimboa da Praia, Cabo Delgado Province. ISIS-Mozambique’s attacks have caused the displacement of nearly 670,000 persons within northern Mozambique.”
Save The Children said that ISIS left horrific scenes of beheaded children in Palma.
Palma is the center of a multi-billion-dollar investment by Total, the France-based oil and gas company, to extract liquified natural gas from offshore sites in the Indian Ocean. The gas deposits are estimated to be among the world’s largest and the investment by Total and others is reported to be $20 billion, one of the largest in Africa.
Total, hoping to resume operational activities on this project soon (the original goal was to make it operational by 2024), announced that, under the current circumstances, it suspends them.
The battle for Palma forced Total to evacuate its large, fortified site 10 kilometers outside of the city. 6,000-10,000 people were near or inside Total’s gas plant, according to a source involved in the evacuation operation. They arrived in waves, knocking on the gates of this well-guarded facility, comparable with a “besieged stronghold”, said a British security expert.
On March 29th, the town was completely lost and fighting was happening throughout, according to Lionel Dyck, director of the Dyck Advisory Group, a private military company contracted by the Mozambican police to help fight the rebels.
“There is fighting in the streets, in pockets across the town,” Dyck told The Associated Press. The Dyck group has several helicopter gunships in Palma which have been used to rescue trapped civilians and to fight the rebels.
“My guys are airborne and they’ve engaged several little groups and they’ve engaged one quite large group,” Dyck said. “They’ve landed into the fight to recover a couple of wounded policemen. … We have also rescued many people who were trapped, 220 people at last count.”
The rebels are well-armed with AK-47 automatic rifles, RPD and PKM machine guns and heavy mortars, Dyck said.
“This attack is not a surprise. We’ve been expecting Palma to be whacked the moment the rains stopped and the fighting season started, which is now,” he said.
“They have been preparing for this. They’ve had enough time to get their ducks in a row. They have a notch up in their ability. They’re more aggressive. They’re using their mortars.” He said many were wearing black uniforms.
“There have been lots of beheadings. Right up on day one, our guys saw the drivers of trucks bringing rations to Palma. Their bodies were by the trucks. Their heads were off.”
Dyck said it will not be easy for the Mozambican government to regain control of Palma.
“They must get sufficient troops to sweep through the town, going house-to-house and clean each one out. That’s the most difficult phase of warfare in the book,” Dyck said. “It will be very difficult unless there’s a competent force put in place with good command and control to retake that town. It can be done. But it ain’t going to be easy.”
More NGOs are calling for action in Cabo Delgado.
“The attack on Palma has made a bad humanitarian situation worse,” said Jonathan Whittall, director of analysis for Doctors Without Borders, which is working to help the displaced around Pemba, the provincial capital 160 km south of Palma.
“Across Cabo Delgado, the situation was already extremely worrying for those displaced by violence and for those who are in areas that are difficult for humanitarian assistance to reach,” Whittall said. “This attack on Palma has led to more displacement and will increase the needs that have to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
“For too long northern Mozambique has been a neglected humanitarian crisis,” Whittall said.
Hundreds of thousands displaced, children, women and men beheaded on the streets, hundreds being killed in clashes and attacks in the north, and there was close to no action.
As soon as Total’s $20-billion project was endangered, the entire international community began screaming foul and priming the begin action.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- ISIS Claimed Control Over Palma Town In Mozambique, French Total Suspends Its Work In The Region
- Children Beheaded in Mozambique: Shocking Testimonies of Displaced Families