After three days of fighting, jihadists in northeastern Mozambique took control of a small town in the immediate vicinity of an international natural gas mega-project. According to reports from security officials, the government forces withdrew from the small town of Palma on Saturday night. Activists reported heavy destruction and deaths on site. Among the victims were hotel guests who were attacked again after the hotel was evacuated.
The French oil giant Total and the US group ExxonMobil are building a billion-dollar project to develop liquefied natural gas on a site in the immediate vicinity of Palma. There were also foreign project workers among the evacuees. The company announced Saturday evening that work will not resume.
Jihadists attacked the coastal city in the border region with Tanzania on Wednesday. According to eyewitnesses, residents fled to a nearby forest while employees of the companies involved in the gas project sought refuge in the Amarula Hotel. An employee of the gas plant spoke of many dead. “Almost the whole city” was destroyed. The government in Pretoria announced that at least one South African was among the dead.
The human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) also reported several fatalities, citing eyewitnesses. Witnesses reported dead bodies lying on the street and jihadist fighters who shot at people and buildings at random.
On Friday, the army managed to get the 180 or so people out of the hotel where they were stuck in the middle of the fighting. According to a security representative, around 80 hotel guests were to be brought to safety by truck, but the convoy was attacked and several people were killed. Only seven of the 17 trucks made it out of the combat zone. What happened to the others was initially unclear.
The remaining hotel guests were picked up by ships on Saturday night, the representative reported. His information could not be checked at first. A hotel employee told the AFP news agency on the phone that all guests had left the building.
Officials did not initially confirm the reports. The government confirmed the attack on Palma on Thursday and announced a military offensive. Since then she has been silent.
According to HRW, the attackers are connected to a jihadist group known in Mozambique as Al-Shabaab, which is said to have no direct connections to the Somali jihadist militia of the same name.
Palma is in the Muslim-majority province of Cabo Delgado. For three years there have been repeated attacks by radical Islamic gangs in which, according to reports by NGOs, at least 2,600 people were killed and 670,000 were forced to flee.
After a series of military interventions, the situation had calmed down in the past few months. It was only on the day of the attack that Total announced that it would resume construction work on the natural gas project, which had been suspended since the beginning of the year due to the uncertain situation. Meanwhile, on Saturday evening, the group announced that work would not be resumed. According to the previous plans, the plant should start operating in 2024.