(CNN) — Fighters from ISIS’s central African province claimed responsibility for the attack in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province on Monday, according to a statement published by ISIS-affiliated media wing Amaq news agency.
The attack by Islamist insurgents in the town of Palma in Cabo Delgado province began on Wednesday, according to multiple sources contacted by CNN. Witnesses reported seeing dead bodies in the streets after insurgents attacked Palma from three directions, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday.
Dozens of people have been killed, Omar Saranga, a spokesman for the Mozambican Defense and Security Forces, said in a statement released on Sunday. The deaths include both locals and foreigners working in the region, he said, without detailing their nationalities.
The insurgents are known locally as “Shabaab” but have no links to the Somali group of the same name. The group’s full name is Ahl al-Sunnah wa al Jamma’ah (ASWJ), and it was formally adopted by the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed Central African Province in 2019. This is the first attack claimed by the Islamic State’s Central African Province. Islamic. (ISCAP) since November. Earlier this month, the United States designated the group as a terrorist organization under the name “ISIS-Mozambique.”
The city of Palma is close to a large liquefied natural gas project of the French company Total. The attack came hours after the Mozambican government and Total announced the resumption of operations at the vast Afungi project north of Palma, where work had been suspended since January following a series of insurgent attacks.
“Islamic State fighters took control of a major coastal town in the Cabo Delgado region of northeastern Mozambique after a massive attack lasting three days,” the Amaq news agency statement said on Monday.
The statement quotes a military ‘source’ as telling Amaq that the attack started last Wednesday “from various axes” and “killed 55 Mozambican fighters and Christians, including ‘contractors’ from outside the country”.
It also included a photograph purportedly showing dozens of young fighters, some of them apparently in their teens, gathering in Palma.
“The source confirmed that Islamic State fighters tightened their control of the city and the army and government headquarters, banks, businesses and commercial factories after Mozambican forces fled there,” the statement said. Amaq.
CNN cannot independently verify Amaq’s claims.
In August of last year, ASWJ staged a large-scale assault on the port of Mocimboa da Praia and continue to occupy the area despite government efforts to retake it.
ASWJ has made much of Cabo Delgado inaccessible and insecure as their attacks have grown in scope and sophistication since 2017.
A “well-planned” attack in Mozambique
The head of the private army contractor Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), Lionel Dyck, says the attack on the coastal city of Palma in northern Mozambique was a well-planned operation that left scores dead.
“This was a very well planned and coordinated attack, an attack by three groups of people in the city,” Dyck told the South African Broadcasting Corporation in an interview on Sunday. “They’ve come in and they’ve got engines and they’ve got heavy weapons.”
The DAG had been helping the Mozambican government protect the region and, since the attack, has been helping to rescue those left behind.
“We have rescued 120 people from various places where they had fled and hid in some of the camps,” Dyck said, describing the situation on the ground as “quite chaotic”, four days after the attack began.
“There are corpses lying all over the road, they have been decapitated. Some of the food supply vehicles were there, they took out all the drivers and killed them, and they were lying on the road when we arrived the day this started.”
“We have not counted the bodies. We have recovered a number, but we are concentrating on the living people at the moment,” he added.
The DAG chief also argued that the insurgency in northern Mozambique has been growing steadily and an attack was expected.
“This attack on Palma, we predicted it a few months ago,” he said.
“There are two seasons in these types of operations: there is the rainy season, when the dissidents, or the terrorists, as you like, cannot move and stay in their camps. And when the rain stops, they call it fight season, and this is the beginning of fight season when they can really go out there and attack and do this, and it’s been on the cards for a long time, we predicted that Palma could be a objective”.
“This insurrection has gone from being a fairly small and well-armed group of bandits to what we have just seen now,” he also said. “In the past, they were just bandits, hooking up with ISIS and claiming to be affiliated with ISIS, and flying the black flag, but now I think it’s pretty serious, in the sense that they’ve become a bit more of a threat.” .