The attempted evacuation of people trapped during an attack in northern Mozambique by militants has led to multiple casualties, with dozens of people still unaccounted for, according to reports.
The town of Palma in Cabo Delgado province was attacked by Islamist insurgents on Wednesday. Witnesses reported seeing bodies in the streets after the insurgents, believed to be affiliated with the terrorist group ISIS, attacked Palma from three directions, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday.
Dozens of people have been killed, Omar Saranga, spokesman for the Mozambique Defense and Security Forces, said in a broadcast statement on Sunday. The fatalities include both locals and foreigners working in the region, he said, without detailing their nationalities.
Among the dead were seven people who were ambushed while trying to leave the Amaarula Hotel and join a vehicle convoy, Saranga added.
According witnesses, a convoy of about 17 vehicles left Palma on late Friday afternoon. There were many foreign workers in the convoy as well as Mozambicans. However, only seven vehicles reached safely and at least 50 people remain unaccounted for. Palma is near a major natural gas project run by the French company Total.
Saranga on Sunday said the country’s Defense and Security Forces (FDS) had “reinforced their operational strategy to contain the criminal offensives of the terrorists.”
“At this point in time, the FDS remain committed in clarifying the areas of Palma in order to guarantee the safe return of the population. All FDS positions are currently under its control,” he said.
Human Rights Watch and others say that in the early stages of the assault witnesses described the militants as attacking and killing local people in their homes and on the streets of Palma.
Total announced Saturday it was suspending plans to restart operations in the Afungi Peninsula, which were previously halted after insurgent attacks in January.