- "The waterborne assault was conducted by an outside element," a source said.
- The identity of the attackers remain unclear as the insurgents have never claimed responsibility for any attack.
- The government has battled to end the insurgency to no avail despite the support from a Russian military company.
Islamist insurgents have seized the strategic northern Mozambique port town of Mocimboa da Praia, close to where foreign companies are working on a $60 billion natural gas project. The army and the police have launched a counter-offensive. A security source said the insurgents arrived in two speedboats to attack Mocimboa da Praia from the east while others attacked by land, overwhelming the army.
“The waterborne assault was conducted by an outside element,” the source said. Experienced fighters “could be from Somalia or Tanzania.” He added that the militants took military equipment “sufficient for two battalions,” and had also seized boats, including military patrol vessels in the port. They are also said to have destroyed port facilities, military installations, government buildings, and shops, after looting them and three banks from which they stole money.
The attack took place before dawn and the insurgents overran the town and its military base. The official news agency AIM, reported the spokesperson for the General Command of the Mozambican Police, Orlando Mudumane, told reporters that the terrorists had attacked the barracks of the defense forces, where they hoisted their flag. Mudumane added that the militants barricaded the main roads leading to the town and have total control.
The identity of the attackers remain unclear as the insurgents have never claimed responsibility for any attack. Some say the militants call themselves Al-Shabab, though it is unclear whether they are linked to the significantly-larger Somali militant group with the same name. Some security sources have described those responsible for the attack as the Islamic State Central African Province (IS-CAP) that is affiliated to Islamic State in Somalia.
There were fears for the fate of Christians in the town, since the attackers were said to have been roaming in the streets hunting for them. In the previous attacks in Cabo Delgado province, the insurgents beheaded and maimed scores of civilians and government soldiers, showing the characteristic brutality of Islamic State insurgents in the Middle East.
The town is in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province, about 200 kilometers north of the larger port town of Pemba, and close to the Tanzanian border. In 2010, Mozambique discovered huge gas reserves in Rovuma Basin, off the Indian Ocean coast of Cabo Delgado. It is one of the poorest regions in the country, but rich in untapped natural resources. Last year in October, ExxonMobil unveiled plans to invest more than $500 million in the initial construction phase of its gas project in the region.
A security source said that if the jihadists hold the captured town of Mocimboa da Praia, it would be a significant victory for them and a substantial loss for the government forces. “It is quite a big town,” he said. “It’s got a port, an airport and it’s on the road to Palma Oil, companies were using it to bring in containers on barges to be moved to their installations.”
The government has battled to end the insurgency to no avail despite the support from a Russian military company. Hundreds have been killed and dozens displaced during the three-year insurgency in Cabo Delgado.