Islamist insurgents on Wednesday morning invaded Quissanga, a coastal town in Mozambique’s restive Cabo Delgado province, which is home to the country's huge liquefied natural gas developments.
The latest assault came just two days after insurgents swept into Mocimboa da Praia in an attack subsequently claimed by Islamic State (IS).
Portugal’s Lusa news agency, citing residents, said armed groups attacked the district headquarters town of Quissanga, causing widespread population flight.
Lusa reported that, since the early hours of Wednesday, part of the coastal town’s population has been fleeing by boat and on foot to the Quirimbas archipelago, chiefly to the island of Ibo, 14 kilometres away, while other people were attempting to walk to Pemba.
According to local reports, smoke was seen over the town, but there was no mention of victims because residents fled on hearing gunshots near the town’s administration buildings.
Cabo Delgado has been the target of attacks by Islamist militants that international organisations classify as a terrorist threat.
IS claimed responsibility for Monday’s Mocimboa da Praia attack, which was countered by government forces who pushed out the militants yesterday.
According to Reuters, IS claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency, which said dozens of soldiers and police officers had been killed or injured.
The government has not provided a figure for dead or injured.
“Military sources told Amaq that IS fighters attacked five army and police barracks in the town,” IS’ agency said in Tuesday’s report, adding that weapons, ammunition and other equipment had been seized.
Government spokesman Filimao Suaze told Reuters the retreating attackers had left a “trail of destruction and dead bodies”, and that security had been increased in the area.
Mocimboa da Praia — known locally as MdP — is one of the province’s main urban centres and lies about 80 kilometres by road south of Palma, close to where a huge LNG complex on Afungi peninsula is in the early stages of development by supermajors Total and ExxonMobil.
Mocimboa da Praia previously served as the main airport for international workers flying into the LNG construction site.
However, one source in Maputo said a new airport has been completed at Afungi and all personnel fly straight to the construction site from Pemba.
This project watcher said that, under the execution plan, the Afungi site “is almost going to be an island with a secure airport and secure port and totally separated... from the mainland".
At the end of last year, according to Total’s 2019 annual report, there were about 6500 workers at the Afungi site.
However, the Maputo-based observer said there are far few workers there now.
“It’s still significant, but it’s nowhere near that much (6500) anymore (because) they have finished a whole bunch of workscopes.”
Quissanga lies about 320 kilometres south of Palma and 115 kilometres north of Pemba, the provincial capital and the main offshore supply base.
In response to the first attack, an ExxonMobil spokesperson said: “We continue to monitor security developments in the Cabo Delgado region and work closely with the government regarding appropriate safeguards to protect people, operations and facilities.
"The safety and security of our employees, contractors and the people who work and live around our operations is a top priority."
Adriano Nuvunga, director of the Centre for Democracy & Development, a Maputo-based civil society group, showed what is claimed to be video footage of the Quissanga attack aftermath on his Twitter page and called on the African Union, the Southern African Development Community and Mozambique’s government tackle the militant groups.
Security consultancy A2 Global Risk tweeted that IS’s claimed attack is “unprecedented” and underscores “the expanding terrorist threat in north-eastern Mozambique".
In response to the Mocimboa da Praia attack, Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy director for East and Southern Africa said: “This violent escalation... is the culmination of a tragic failure by the Mozambican government to protect the people in this volatile area.
“For almost three years, armed groups have been attacking villagers around Cabo Delgado, causing untold human suffering, without being held accountable.”
She said that “these continued attacks are compounded by the fact that the Mozambican government is prohibiting journalists, researchers and foreign observers from accessing the area to assess the situation".
Mwananyanda wants the authorities to take “immediate and effective action to protect everyone in the region, including by ramping up lawful security measures and carrying out investigations into all the recent attacks, with the aim of bringing suspected perpetrators to justice".