UPDATE: ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack via its news agency Amaq. The situation in the town remains tense. According to reports, militants seized a bank, captured several vehicles and boats.
ISIS (IS Central Africa) temporarily took over the key town of Mocimboa da Praia in #Mozambique, seizing military & other points swiftly after apparently a not-so-negative reception locally (Sound familiar?)
They captured very large amounts of small arms- seems many T56s here. pic.twitter.com/DIEZLwFVL8
— Cᴀʟɪʙʀᴇ Oʙsᴄᴜʀᴀ (@CalibreObscura) March 24, 2020
Islamist militants have seized control of a key town in northern Mozambique. Mocimboa de Praia is located in the Cabo Delgado region, close to the site where foreign companies are working on a $60bn natural gas project.
In 2010, Mozambique discovered large gas reserves in Rovuma Basin, off the Indian Ocean coast of Cabo Delgado. In October 2019, ExxonMobil unveiled plans to invest more than $500m in the initial construction phase of its gas project in the region.
Mocimboa de Praia is strategically important to the project. Until recently it was the location of the main airport for workers traveling to the site, before a landing strip was built at Afungi itself. The port of Mocimboa de Praia is also used for some cargo deliveries.
The attack started on March 23. About 200 militants encircled the town and seized a military base and police units. Dozens people were wounded and the army barraks became the main strong point of the attackers. Police said that the army and police launched a counter-offensive. Since then, clashes have been ongoing.
This was the first time Mozambican militants attacked a major town. They usually attack villages and farms. Furthermore, it remains unclear what group stands behind the attack.
A number of smaller attacks in the region were claimed by a group known as Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama. More recently, the Islamic State has claimed a number of attacks. Locals claim that the militants in Mocimboa de Praia are from al-Shabab (this group is different to that active in Somalia despite the same name).
The place of the attack and its scale are likely linked with the gas project developing in the region. Most likely, militants seek to get money from foreign companies for the halt of attacks on the infrastructure, which they use.