More than 1,000 survivors of Mozambique hardline Islamist attack reach safety

Relatives wait for family members to arrive at Pemba port from boats bringing people from Palma, 1 April 2021.
Relatives wait for family members to arrive at Pemba port from boats bringing people from Palma, 1 April 2021. © AFP - Alfredo Zuniga

Some 1,000 survivors of a deadly attack by jihadists arrived in Mozambique’s Pemba port on Thursday, assisted by aid workers who distributed food to those getting off the crowded ferry.


Families and friends greeted the arrivals from Palma, Reuters news agency reported, following an organised attack by Islamic State affiliated fighters last week that killed dozens of people.

The Red Cross has published details of a telephone hotline for relatives still looking for their loved ones in the province of Cabo Delgado, which has been the scene of increasing insurgency since 2017.

Portugal has reportedly agreed to send 60 soldiers to help the Mozambican government fight the rebels.

African Union Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat condemned the “terrorist attacks” in Cabo Delgado, in a statement published on Wednesday.

He called for “urgent and coordinated regional and international action to address this new threat to our common security”.

South African private security contractor Dyck Advisory Group, who have been working on behalf of the Mozambique government, described indiscriminate killings in Palma and beheadings, according to reports in South African media.

Regional bloc meeting

The Southern African Development Community regional bloc met on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Mozambique during a meeting in Harare.

"We have formed views as a troika,” said Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who currently chairs the bloc’s politics, defence and security council.

“One of them will result in taking this further so that we as SADC respond in a helpful manner to ensure that we assure the integrity and sovereignty of one of our own, never to be assaulted by dissident, rebellious and non-state-actor forces," Masisi added.

At the same time, Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi tried to downplay the impact of last week’s attack, describing it as not the biggest.

The Cabo Delgado is home to one of Africa’s largest investment projects, a multibillion-dollar liquefied natural gas project (LNG) led by French multinational Total.

It was hoped that the LNG investment would spark economic activity in the country, with Palma becoming a base for hundreds of skilled workers.

However, increasing Islamist attacks and the lack of a coordinated security response by Mozambican authorities have threatened the entire LNG industry, according to Theo Neethling, a political expert at University of the Free State.

“It is clear that Cabo Delgado is an area which the central government in Maputo is unable to control, govern effectively, or even influence,” said Neethling, writing in The Conversation.

More than 5,000 people were displaced by the jihadist attack last Wednesday, according to the UN, adding to approximately 670,000 people who had fled fighting since 2017.

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