The so-called Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the ongoing siege of Palma in the Cabo Delgado region of northern Mozambique. The terrorist network said that it has captured the city and killed some 55 foreign nationals, though that number has not yet been independently verified.
The primary ISIS news outlet released video Monday allegedly showing ISIS-backed fighters resting in the streets of Palma after the siege. Though local security forces claimed to have secured most of the town, self-avowed jihadists are further encouraging more people to join in the attempted conquest, according to the Site Intelligence Group.
The Islamic State’s Central Africa Province (ISCAP) claims that it now controls the banks, offices, factories, and army barracks in Palma, a city with a population of roughly 75,000.
Palma has long been a target for violence, and it is unclear why the government apparently did not act to secure the town.
Lionel Dyck, director of the private military company Dyck Advisory Group, told the Associated Press that his organization had rescued over 200 civilians thus far and had engaged with the insurgents via helicopter.
His report of black-uniformed insurgents coordinating mortar attacks on the city helps to solidify the theory that local extremist groups, known collectively as Al-Shabab (“The Youth”), are now organizing under the banner of ISIS and receiving more extensive training.
The attack is being carried out by several hundred insurgents who assaulted the city from multiple directions, firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades indiscriminately while receiving support from mortar fire.
The siege has forced thousands to flee and reports tell of beheaded bodies littering the streets, some of children. But it is only the latest in an increasingly long history of brutal violence that has displaced some 700,000 killed another 2,600 people in the region since 2017.
The RAND Corporation previously linked local government corruption and repression to the dramatic rise in Islamist violence in Cabo Delgado. Reports tell of endemic hunger and poverty among the local population as the government has attempted to profit from the largest liquified natural gas project in Africa, owned primarily by European and American companies.
Total, the primary shareholder of the $20 billion project that the city of Palma serves as a hub for, announced Sunday that it was suspending operations in response to the attack. The announcement came just a week after the company had revealed plans to restart the project after having ceased production due to another terrorist attack in January.
The fact that the siege of Palma has resulted in the deaths of so many foreign nationals and thrown international business interests into disarray is likely to give the conflict in Cabo Delgado greater visibility, but it is impossible to say whether that visibility will result in the manifestation of increased foreign aid to the region.
Locals have for years now been caught in the crossfire of government security forces, private military companies, and Islamist terrorists, all of whom have been accused of war crimes.
International interference in Mozambique could stabilize the region and prevent a full-blown civil war, but it could also exacerbate local tensions and draw in more foreign insurgents.
Before that, however, Palma must be retaken.
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