JOHANNESBURG (AP) – Heavy fighting over the strategic northern city of Palma in Mozambique has left beheaded people on the streets on Monday, with heavily armed rebels fighting in several places against army, police and private military equipment.
Thousands were reported missing from the city, where about 70,000 people were attacked last Wednesday.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on Monday, saying it was carried out by the Islamic State in central Africa, according to the extremist watchdog group SITE.
Insurgents say the rebels now control Palma’s banks, government offices, factories and army barracks, and more than 55 people, including Mozambican army troops, Christians and foreigners, have been killed. It does not detail the dead.
Earlier this month, the United States declared the Mozambican rebels a terrorist organization and said it had sent military experts to help prepare the Mozambican military to fight them.
In France, Palma is a multibillion-dollar investment center to extract liquefied natural gas from offshore Indian Ocean offshore company Total. Gas fields are estimated to be the largest in the world, and Total և’s other investment is $ 20 billion, the largest in Africa.
The battle for Palma forced Total to evacuate its large, fortified location a few miles (kilometers) from the city.
The fighting spread through the city on Monday, according to Lionel Dyke, a private military company with the Dyck Advisory Group, which has signed a contract with Mozambican police to fight the rebels.
“There are fights in the streets and pockets of the city,” Dyke told The Associated Press. Dyck has several helicopter gunships in Palma that have been used to rescue trapped civilians and fight insurgents.
“My boys are in the air, they involved several small groups, they involved one fairly large group,” Dyke said. “They are fighting to recover some of the wounded policemen. “We also rescued many trapped people, at last 220 people.”
He said the survivors were taken to a fortified site in Total, South Africa’s Afung Peninsula, where regular flights flew south to Pemba, the capital of Cape Delgado.
The rebels are well-armed with AK-47 assault rifles, RPD և PKM machine guns and heavy grenades, Dyke said.
“This attack is not surprising. “We expected Palma to be shaken as soon as the rains stopped and the war season started,” he said.
“It simply came to our notice then. They have had enough time to get their ducks in a row. They have a high level of ability. They are more aggressive. “They use their grenades.” He said many wore black uniforms.
“There have been many beheadings. On the very first day, our boys saw truck drivers bringing palm groves. Their bodies were near the trucks. “Their heads were cut off.”
Dick said it would not be easy for the Mozambican government to regain control of Palma.
“They have to get enough troops to sweep the city, going from house to house to clean everyone up. “It’s the hardest part of the book war,” Dyke said. “It will be very difficult as long as there is no competent force to retake the city, which is in good command and control. It can be done. But it will not be easy. “
Without Palma’s control, Total’s operations are in jeopardy, analysts say.
For Palma, the battle is similar to how the rebels captured the port of Mocimboa da Praia in August. The rebels infiltrated the city with men to live among the residents, then launched a three-pronged attack. Fighting continued for more than a week as rebels took control of the city center and then its port. The city, about 50 miles south of Palma, is still under siege by rebels.
UN spokesman Stefan Dujarric condemned the violence in Palma, which he said killed dozens of people, including “several trying to escape from a hotel where they had taken refuge.”
He referred to people at the Amarula Hotel who tried to escape in a convoy of 17 cars on Friday. Only seven cars reached the beach, killing seven people. Some of the other vehicles escaped to the dense jungle and later escaped.
“We continue to work closely with local authorities to provide assistance to victims of violence,” Dujarric said.
The battle for Palma is expected to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Mozambique’s northern Cape Delgado state, where rebels launched violent attacks in 2017. According to experts, there are probably thousands of them now.
“The attack on Palma is a game changer in the sense that the rebels have changed history,” said one expert who returned from Palma earlier this month.
“This is not a bunch of disorganized youth. “It’s a trained, determined force that has taken over a city and is now fighting for a very strategic center,” said the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to Palma. “They questioned the whole investment in LNG (liquefied natural gas), which was supposed to bring Mozambique big economic growth for years to come.”
Locally known as al-Shabab, although they are not known to the Somali jihadist rebels of the same name, insurgent violence in Mozambique, which has a population of 30 million, is blamed for the deaths of more than 2,600 people, causing 670,000 people to flee their homes.
“The attack on Palma has exacerbated the humanitarian situation,” said Doc Onathan Whitol, director of Médecins Sans Frontières, which works to help displaced people in the Pemba area, 100 miles south of Palma.
“The situation throughout Cape Delgado is already a real concern for those displaced by the violence, those in areas that are difficult to reach for humanitarian aid,” Whitol said. “This attack on Palma has led to more deportations; it will increase the needs that need to be addressed urgently.”
“Northern Mozambique has been a neglected humanitarian crisis for a very long time,” Whitol said, adding that his organization was exploring ways to expand its emergency response.
AP journalists Edith M. Leaders at the UN և Tom Booker’s contribution in Uzes, France.