MAPUTO - A Mozambican worker was killed and six others were wounded when two road convoys operated by US gas giant Anadarko came under attack in northern Mozambique, an area grappling with jihadist violence, the company said Friday.
The convoys were targeted Thursday on a highway linking Mocimboa da Praia to Afungi Bay in Palma, the nerve center of Mozambique's nascent gas industry.
They are the first such attacks by militants targeting gas operators in the area.
Anadarko said there were "two related attacks" that occurred around 5 pm (1500 GMT) some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from an LNG project construction site at Afungi Bay.
"The first involved a convoy where six contract personnel sustained non-life-threatening injuries and were either treated or are receiving treatment, and we have accounted for all personnel," it said.
"Tragically, the second attack, which involved the firm contracted to construct an airstrip for the project, resulted in one fatality," it said in a updated statement.
A journalist in Mocimboa da Praia town told AFP that the worker, identified by the company as Gabriel Couto, was beheaded.
Armed men blocked the road and attacked the convoy with firearms, company sources told AFP, with local media suggesting that 15 attackers were involved.
Anadarko is among international corporations investing billions of dollars to exploit major gas reserves discovered off Mozambique's northeastern coast.
Anadarko last month advertised in the local media for the supply of armoured vehicles for use in its northern Mozambique operations.
Threat to gas operations
In the latest statement, Anadarko said the construction site would remain on lockdown.
"We also remain in close contact with government authorities to ensure appropriate measures are in place to protect our workforce," it said.
"We are still working to gather information and continue to actively monitor the situation".
Anadarko early last year temporarily evacuated workers from the area and halted operations after the US embassy in Maputo issued an alert warning of imminent attacks.
Hardline Islamists have launched several deadly attacks in the Muslim-majority, oil and gas-rich Cabo Delgado province in the past year, stoking unrest just as Maputo pushes ahead with exploration efforts.
The Islamist fighters — reportedly seeking to impose Sharia law in the Muslim-majority province — have since October 2017 terrorised remote communities in the gas-rich region, killing about 200 people, including beheadings, and forcing thousands from their homes.
The Islamists belong to a group originally known as Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama — Arabic for "followers of the prophet" — but commonly referred to by locals and officials as "Al-Shabaab", although it has no known link to the notorious Somali jihadist group of the same name.
Nick Branson, an analyst at the London-based consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said the latest attack "marks a shift in tactics, as attacks have historically focused on coastal government positions and civilians, and have largely been carried out with machetes."
"Militants now possess the capacity to threaten LNG operations on the mainland," he said.