Mozambique security forces were engaged in a heavy battle with Islamist insurgents to regain control of a strategic port Mocimboa da Praia in a gas-rich northern province, Defence Minister Jaime Neto said.
Neto has announced the operation a day after the Islamists staged an early morning attack and captured the port town of Mocimboa da Praia.
“At this moment, the defence and security forces are trying to control the situation,” Neto said to press in the capital Maputo. “However, it remains tense and fluid.”
The militants had infiltrated various neighbourhoods disguised in civilian clothes, before unleashing terror, looting and killing government troops and civilians, Neto underlined.
The assault was the latest and the most pertinent in a chain of intensifying attacks that have plagued the country’s northern region since 2017.
Authorities at Mozambique’s defence forces (FDS) confirmed that “terrorists” had launched “sequenced attacks” on several villages surrounding the port over the past week in an operation aiming to occupy the town.
Striking Mocimboa da Praia for a third time this year, the brazen attack was orchestrated a stone’s throw from the heart of the site of natural gas projects worth billions of dollars.
Mocimboa da Praia lies less than 80 kilometres south of Afungi peninsula where a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility, one of Africa’s biggest single investment projects, is located.
The port in the Cabo Delgado province is a major traffic hub for the gas project.
The attacks in Cabo Delgado have displaced more than 250,000 people and caused more than 1500 deaths, according to the ACLED Data Project.
The attacks started in Mocimboa da Praia in 2017 and have since spread to massive swathes of Cabo Delgado.
The latest attack — the third on the town this year — was claimed by the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP).
The IS-affiliated group has the stated goal of establishing a Caliphate in the region.
In spite of the drop in oil prices and the global pandemic crisis, French company Total signed a $14.9bn senior debt financing agreement for Mozambique LNG on 17 July, after acquiring the asset from US-based Anadarko in September 2019.
The Mozambique LNG project involves plans to construct the country’s first onshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant, including the development of the Golfinho and Atum gas fields located within the Offshore Area 1 concession in Cabo Delgado Province, in northern Mozambique, as well as the construction of a two-train liquefaction plant with a total capacity of 13.1 million tonnes per annum.