ISIS claimed responsibility for a days-long ambush in a coastal town in northern Mozambique last week that forced tens of thousands of people to flee the area and left dozens of people dead, including some foreigners.
The attack on the town of Palma was by car A disturbing escalation of the war In the gas-rich province of Cabo Delgado, where militants with loose links to the Islamic State have killed at least 2,000 people in a campaign of violence over the past three years.
In recent months, the local insurgency has grown in strength and has captured large swaths of land, including the other major coastal city in the region. Last week’s attack demonstrated a new level of boldness by the rebels and was the closest the group has come to a multi-billion dollar gas project run by international energy companies.
Few analysts believe that the Islamic State in the Middle East maintains a close relationship with the insurgency, which is born out of frustration with local grievances and shares little of the Islamic State’s ideological goals. But claiming responsibility for the deadly attack underscores the organisation’s ability to take advantage of its loose relations with armed groups around the world to create the impression of a truly global conflict.
On Monday, the Islamic State group claimed that more than 55 people – including Mozambican army soldiers, Christians and foreigners – were killed in the ambush by the Islamic State’s Central African branch, according to the SITE intelligence group.
Mozambican defense officials said on Sunday that “dozens” were killed in the attack, including seven foreigners who had taken refuge inside a hotel and Try to escape by road Friday. Militants ambushed a convoy of 17 cars shortly after leaving the hotel, Amarola Palma, and only seven vehicles arrived on the shore, as a fleet of boats was rescuing hundreds of people trapped in the city.
At least one South African, Adrian Neal, 40, was killed trying to escape from the Amarola Palma Hotel. Several South Africans are still missing and are presumed dead, according to private security contractors, and At least one British citizen He was missing until Sunday night.
Security contractors have seen several beheaded bodies in the city in recent days, according to Lionel Deak, founder of the South African security firm Dyck Advisory Group, which has helped evacuate people from Palma.
This month, the United States officially designated the insurgency, known locally as Sunnis and Jamaat, as a global terrorist entity and U.S. Special Forces soldiers began training Mozambican forces. The rebels were identified in ISIS’s Central Africa Province in 2019.
Nevertheless, many analysts say the insurgency remains an homegrown crisis, born out of a set of grievances that have long plagued the impoverished region.
“This is an internal rebellion based on local grievances,” said Joseph Hanlon, a senior visiting fellow in the international development department at the London School of Economics and an expert on Mozambique. “There are loose ties, but the rebels have not separated their control over ISIS.”
He added: “This is not an Islamic jihad.”
Since the militants swept through the town on Saturday, the Mozambican army and contractors with the Dick Advisory Group, brought in by the government, have tried to drive the rebels out of the city. But militants still control much of Palma, including banks, government offices, factories and army barracks in the city, according to a statement issued by the Islamic State group on Monday.
In recent days, tens of thousands of people have fled Palma to neighboring areas, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis that has escalated dramatically over the past year.
At the start of 2020, the conflict has displaced 18,000 people in Mozambique, according to the World Food Program. By the start of this year, that number had risen to over 600,000.
“The crisis has been escalating for some time,” said Lula Castro, the program’s regional director in South Africa. “But at this moment we are looking forward to a humanitarian catastrophe.”
Eric Schmidt Contributed to reporting from Washington.