Insurgents who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and are fighting for the implementation of a religious government based on sharia, Islamic law, in northern Mozambique had previously attacked several district headquarters in the province. from Cabo Delgado last year.
Mocímboa da Praia twice – and still under jihadist control today. In all of them there was a common denominator: the district administrators escaped earlier, warned by the Mozambican secret service (Sise).
In Palma, during the attack last Wednesday (24), administrator Agostinho Ntauali was among those who took refuge at the Amarula hotel, located on the outskirts of the village, and found themselves surrounded by jihadists. This time, the Secret Service did not issue any warning of an imminent attack.
The Mozambican Center for Democracy and Development said in its bulletin on Tuesday (30) that the South African private security company DAG (Dyck Advisory Group), whose contract with the Interior Ministry to help the police expires on April 6, warned of an imminent attack, but warnings were ignored.
Thus, the insurgents, in large numbers, well coordinated and equipped with modern weapons, who managed to enter the village without anyone sounding the alarm, almost achieved their objectives. Almost, because if it is certain that they destroyed, killed, put the population to flight and further weakened the image of the Mozambican government, the day Total Oil announced the resumption of the activity of its natural gas project liquefied, after the security guarantees provided by the government of Filipe Nyusi, the military managed to prevent foreigners from becoming hostages.
There were no foreign trophies for the so-called Mozambican al-Shabaab – and the seven foreigners who were killed (including six South Africans) were only killed, a source close to the Defense Ministry says, because they panicked and decided to leave the hotel against the advice of the soldiers who were told to wait and their vehicles were ambushed.
Ntauali, the administrator, along with 130 other people (one of them, a Portuguese gunshot wounded in the leg and who will be in South Africa for treatment) who were at the Amarula hotel, were taken by the soldiers by the beach to Afungi, construction area of Total’s LNG facilities in Mozambique. In total, the military managed to take 1,313 people who fled the village by boat to Pemba.
Pemba is now a village without people. The army, to show that it had regained control, took television crews of helicopters to Palma. From the air, we can still see the smoke of buildings set on fire by the jihadists, who normally apply a policy of destruction of public infrastructure and, as far as the eye can see, from the sky, the streets seem deserted.
As journalist and researcher Joseph Hanlon in Público explains, care should be taken when writing the word ‘control’, because as insurgent attacks on other district capitals in the past show, ‘they are not trying. to guard the towns after the first attack “.
“They destroy as much as they can and kill officials and others, then when they start to be under pressure, they slowly return to the bush. [ou floresta, neste caso]. “
Some time later, the soldiers and the police return to the destroyed village, “but they do not take it back – because it will have been abandoned”. Habitual guerrilla practice, concludes Hanlon, a great connoisseur of a country that has covered and studied for three decades.
Lack of control
The small consolation of the military does not hide a situation which shows the weaknesses of the fight against the insurgency and affects the image that the Mozambican government intended to convey: that of being on the right track to weaken the jihadists and ensure the security of the gas exploration projects in the Rovuma basin.
An attack with this degree of coordination, with modern weapons and high morale fighters, at least judging by the video of the preparation for the attack published by the news agency Amaq, linked to the Islamic State, is a sign that the insurgents are more sophisticated, they have acquired training, logistics and seem far from the weakening that one might imagine in their fight against the police, military and foreign mercenaries.
Government forces lacked coordination, “whoever attends meetings is not in theater,” a Mozambican source told Público.
The Carta de Moçambique news site said on Tuesday that one of the reasons why the village of Palma, although strategic for being within the perimeter of the special security zone of Total’s natural gas project, Mozambique LNG, was so easily conquered by the insurgents is bound to have fewer men than usual.
According to unidentified military sources, men from the defense and security forces were sent a few days before the attack to the district of Montepuez, more than 400 km southwest of Palma, in the interior of the province. of Cabo Delgado, in order to strengthen security. By President Filipe Nyusi, who completed the Basic Education Course for Public Service Providers in Mozambique on the 23rd, the day before what happened in Palma.
It is estimated that there were 60,000 people in Palma, many of whom fled to Tanzania or to Nangade, a municipality north of Mueda, near the border. Pemba will have arrived in the tens of thousands, said Público Carlos Almeida, Mozambique coordinator for the Portuguese NGO Helpo, who has been in Cabo Delgado for 12 years.
But it is too early to know how many have arrived to add to the already high number of displaced people hosted in the provincial capital since the start of the conflict in October 2017.