Islamist militants carried out a deadly attack on a village last week near the Tanzanian port of Mtwara, a major oil and gas logistics base in the south of the country, after crossing the border from gas-rich Cabo Delgado in neighbouring Mozambique.

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The news was confirmed by Tanzanian officials and signals a worrying escalation and expansion of an Islamist insurgency that began three years ago in Mozambique and threatens some $50 billion-worth of liquefied natural gas investments at Afungi in Cabo Delgado.

The attack also raises concerns about security around producing gas fields in southern Tanzania and could, potentially, impinge on plans by Shell and Equinor to develop an LNG plant at Lindi, north-west of Mtwara.

French independent Maurel & Prom operates the Mnazi Bay gas field, south of Mtwara, close to the Mozambican border and 55 kilometres east of Kitaya.

A source familiar with the Mnazi Bay asset told Upstream that "the incident has not impacted the operations," although "it is being closely monitored."

"The situation is calm at the moment and the government has responded with force."

Responding on 27 October to earlier Upstream questions, Maurel & Prom stated that "the attack took place over 50 kilometres away from M&P’s operations and had no impact on M&P’s staff or facilities."

The Paris-based company added: "M&P has been carefully monitoring the situation and is in close contact with local authorities to ensure full compliance with all applicable security measures.

"M&P is also in contact with the Tanzanian police forces and the army to guarantee the safety of its personnel and operations."

Deaths reported

Twenty civilians and three Tanzanian security forces reportedly died after Kitaya was attacked by a reported 300 militants.

Local reports said gunmen launched the assault on Kitaya before retreating back across the Rovuma river that forms the border between Tanzania and Mozambique.

Inspector General of Police Simon Sirro told reporters that both Tanzanians and foreigners were arrested “in connection with the terrorist incident".

He said Tanzania is working with regional neighbours to “flush out the terrorists”.

According to the Zitimar news agency, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the 14 October attack, which took place just weeks before Tanzania’s general election on 28 October that President John Magufuli is expected to win.

'We've come to remove Magufuli'

Zitamar cited a Twitter video posting — now deleted — in which one alleged militant said: “We are Al Shabaab from Mozambique... we’ve come to remove Magufuli."

Conflict observatory Cabo Legado (CL) said: “The Kitaya attack is not the first insurgent incursion into Tanzania since the start of the Cabo Delgado insurgency, but it is certainly the most significant.”

However, it claimed “the explicit aim to influence Tanzanian national politics is a first for the insurgents who up to now have focused their messaging on Cabo Delgado and, to a lesser extent, Mozambique broadly".

CL stated: “The attack is sure to cause concern among regional governments, which have not yet been able to coordinate a response to the insurgency through the Southern African Development Community.”

The Cabo Delgado attacks have displaced more than 304,000 citizens, many of whom have escaped via boat, ending up in refugee camps in Pemba.

(Article updated with extra detail on Mnazi Bay and later comment from Maurel & Prom).