Dozens of people were killed in coordinated jihadist attacks in northern Mozambique’s Palma town, the government said on Sunday, four days after the raid forced the evacuation of thousands of survivors to safety in the provincial capital Pemba.
Seven people were killed in an ambush during an operation to evacuate them from a hotel where they had sought refuge in the wake of the violence, the government statement said.
“Last Wednesday, a group of terrorists sneaked into… Palma and launched actions that resulted in the cowardly murder of dozens of defenceless people,” defence ministry spokesman Omar Saranga told a news conference.
Foreigners were among those caught in the violence, but the government did not say how many foreign nationals were killed.
So far one South African is known to have died during the attacks.
Martin Ewi, a senior researcher with the Pretoria-based think-tank, the Institute for Security Studies, said that “over 100” people were still unaccounted for since the attack.
“That’s what we know so far,” he said, adding that the situation on the ground was confusing.
Vast Total gas project based in attacked province
Last Wednesday, an unknown number of militants began attacking Palma, a town of around 75,000 people in the province of Cabo Delgado, home to a multi-billion-dollar gas project being built by France’s Total and other energy companies.
Human Rights Watch said the militants indiscriminately shot civilians in their homes and on the streets.
In the last three days, government security forces had prioritised “the rescue of hundreds of citizens, nationals and foreigners”, the Defence Ministry said, without giving a breakdown of the numbers.
Some were temporarily taken to the heavily guarded gas plant located on the Afungi peninsula, on the Indian Ocean coast south of the Tanzanian border, before being moved to Pemba, around 250 kilometres south of Palma.
A boat laden with evacuees landed in Pemba on Sunday, according to police patrolling the city port.
According to a source close to the rescue operation, there were “about 1,400” people on board.
Thousands flee southwards to safety
Those evacuated included non-essential staff of Total and Palma residents who had sought refuge at the gas plant.
Several other small boats packed with displaced people were on their way to Pemba.
Airport officials in Pemba said humanitarian aid flights had been suspended to free up space for military operations.
Caritas, a Catholic aid agency which is active in the province, also reported new arrivals to Pemba.
“Now we await the arrival of people who are most vulnerable so that we can provide assistance,” the local head of Caritas, Manuel Nota, told the French AFP news agency.