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Islamic State Claims Dayslong Attack on Mozambique Town

This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows the Amarula Palma hotel, center, in Palma, Mozambique, Jan. 7, 2021. Since March 29, 2021, the hotel has been empty as fierce fighting for control of Mozambique's strategic northern town of Palma persisted.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility Monday for a dayslong attack on the northern Mozambique town of Palma that began last week and has prompted thousands of people to flee.

The Islamist insurgents issued a statement Monday through its Amaq News Agency saying it was now in control of Palma, a town of about 75,000 people, and that 55 people had died in the fighting. Those claims could not be independently verified.

The Associated Press (AP) says it learned from the owner of a private military company hired by the Mozambique government that many of the victims in Palma had been beheaded. On Sunday, Mozambique officials said they were fighting the rebels in several locations to regain control of the town.

Islamist insurgents began a coordinated attack last Wednesday on the town, which is about 10 kilometers from a multinational gas project run by oil majors, including French energy company, Total. The fighting has forced Total to evacuate the facility.

The attack in the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado came “the very same day the French oil giant Total announced that it would progressively resume the construction on site after the implementation of additional security measures,” journalist Yanick Machel, speaking from Maputo, told VOA’s English to Africa. “The violence has shaken the development of the largest African liquefied natural gas project on the Afungi peninsula, led by the French oil giant Total,” he said.

Agence France-Presse reported Monday that the town was all but deserted after thousands of people fled the fighting.

Many residents ran into the tropical forest surrounding the town to escape the violence.

However, the AP reported that a few hundred foreign workers from South Africa, Britain and France gathered at hotels that quickly became targets for the rebel attacks.

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday, “We are deeply concerned by the still evolving situation in Palma where armed attacks began on 24 March, reportedly killing dozens of people, including some trying to flee a hotel where they had taken shelter.”

Henrietta Fore, director of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund said in a statement Monday that the town was hosting more than 35,000 people forcibly displaced from other areas of the province because of previous attacks, with half of those children.

“We still do not know the full impact that the deadly militant attack in Palma, northern Mozambique, has had on children, but we fear that it will be brutal,” Fore said.

On Sunday, Omar Saranga, the spokesperson from the country’s defense department said the terrorist group launched attacks claiming the lives of civilians. The attack was a “cowardly murder of dozens of defenseless people and caused material damage to some of the state’s infrastructures,” said journalist Machel explaining government’s response on VOA’s Daybreak Africa radio program.

Islamist rebels affiliated with IS have been carrying out attacks in northern Mozambique since 2017. Earlier rebel attacks prompted Total to suspend work in January on a project to extract gas from offshore sites.

The United Nations says the insurgency has left more than 2,600 people dead and displaced an estimated 670,000 people.

VOA English to Africa's James Butty contributed to this report.