News BlogSouthern AfricaStabilization / Peace

Things are heating up in Palma (Mozambique). A fully organized jihadist attack (v2)

(B2) The city of Palma - in the north of Mozambique, in Cabo Delgado - has been the scene of an attack by armed terrorist groups since Wednesday (24.03). A massive and rather organized attack, according to local sites

One of the residences in Palma caught under fire (credit: African Century)

A highly organized attack

The very coordinated attack began in Palma on Wednesday (24.03) at exactly 16 p.m., indicates a communicated released Thursday by the Mozambican Ministry of Defence. The assailants streamed in from three directions:  1) the passage of Pundanhar, Manguna, 2) the Via Nhica do Rovuma, and 3) the airfield”. An airfield located six kilometers from the city and serves as the main gateway to Afungi, where the facilities of companies exploring for natural gas are located. At least 100 armed men in military uniform participated according to the local community site Pinnacle News.

A well-organized scenario

This attack by the group Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa (or Al Chabaab, "the young people") on three places is no accident. By blocking the passage of Pundanhar, it prevented the FDS, the Mozambican defense and security forces, " to reinforce with troops installed in Mueda explains journalist Marcelo Mosse from Map of Mozambique. By attacking the village of Manguna, the only sense of refuge for the population was to rush to Palma ". A city which in a few months has become almost a " besieged city ". The terrorists mingled with the crowd of fugitives, crossing the kinds of checkpoints with backpacks. " Inside Palma they opened their bags, took out their weapons and began attacking military and civilian targets.

Residents on the run

The townspeople then fled where they could. Some towards the forest or towards Tanzania. Others towards the port or the beach. Several ships taking turns to carry out a naval bridge by repatriating several hundred people to the town of Pemba located several tens of kilometers further down the coast. Others, in the Afungi peninsula, were able to find refuge with the military forces who welcomed them in huge caches.

At the Hotel Amarula Palma

Some 200 people, mainly workers from the liquefied natural gas (LNG) exploitation facilities, first went to the Amarula Palma hotel. One of the newest in town. A first attempt at exfiltration by helicopters made it possible to evacuate a few people (mainly government officials). But she had to stop. Another attempt by road was made on Friday (26.03). But at least seven of them were shot dead as they were being evacuated. Others were injured, including a Portuguese. His life is not in danger, said the president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, to journalists at the Palace of Belém, according to the portuguese press. Other sites were attacked, such as Palma Villages. Some of the staff 19 people who worked on the site and 4 customers were able to be rescued [Saturday] March 27 “in the morning under heavy fire ” specifies the African Century group in a press release. The " efforts continue to locate the remaining.

Two-thirds of the city destroyed, dozens of civilian casualties, at least 21 soldiers killed

The number of victims is uncertain. But it could be high. The situation is dramatic according to Pinnacle News. " Two-thirds of the Vila Sede in Palma were set on fire during three days of consecutive attacks. There are dozens of civilians with decapitated or shot bodies. At least 21 soldiers were also killed in action. The testimonies of the inhabitants who fled speak of several people killed, and of the bodies of adults and children in the streets. The situation remains confused, because soldiers and jihadists sometimes wear the same uniform.

Mobile communications cut off

All mobile communications are cut off. The central relay of the local mobile operator Vodacom exploded. But audio messages were able to reach Pinnacle News, using alternative communication lines provided by the multinational Total. The largest health unit in the city was " busy " by the jihadists, the medical personnel having " I ". The three bank branches were the target of attacks.

A situation closely monitored in Brussels, Paris and Lisbon

On the European side, we say we are closely monitoring the situation. Mozambique was also one of the issues discussed in the bilateral meeting between the French (Jean-Yves Le Drian) and Portuguese (Augusto Santos Silva) ministers on the sidelines of the NATO ministerial, Tuesday (March 23), according to our information (confirmed by the Portuguese Presidency). The question of going further and setting up European support for the training of Mozambican counter-terrorist forces is clearly on the table.

The establishment of a European security support under study.

Between humanitarianism and development, the security dimension is today the weakest of European cooperation with Mozambique. It is the one that must increase. With probably a military training mission, a non-executive mission. » indicated at the end of January Augusto Santos Silva in a exclusive interview with B2, just after an exploratory mission in Maputo. " We must intervene, support the Mozambican authorities and work with the players in the region, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC), before the problem takes on another dimension... It is in our interest to avoid contamination region of terrorist networks and the links of its networks with all kinds of trafficking.

About 2000 rebels

Even if there is " no precise calculation of the number of insurgents in northern Mozambique, the most credible estimates point to less than 2000 people " among them. The Portuguese Ministry reiterated on Thursday (25.03) its “ commitment to strengthen cooperation with Mozambique, both at bilateral and European Union level, with a view to supporting the stabilization of the situation in the province of Cabo Delgado ».

The takeover of Total aborted and a security relay

This attack comes at a critical moment. The French Total, well established in Mozambique, had just announced its return to the area and the resumption of construction of the site intended to produce liquefied gas. Return interrupted today. While the contract of Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) , a private South African company, which provides part of the security with helicopters, comes to an end at the beginning of April (the 6th), the Armed Forces of Mozambique (FADM) having to take over with helicopters provided by another private company, Paramount. A Russian Mi-8 type helicopter (transport) has already joined the field. And about fifteen Mozambican pilots have been trained in the Paramount Technical Training Academy, to fly Gazelle helicopters depending on the site Zitamar. Ukrainian pilots will be at the controls of Mi-17 (newer than the Mi-8) and Mi-24 (attack helicopter).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. Violence is endemic in the Cabo Delgado region in northern Mozambique. At least 38 civilians have already died this quarter (before March 19) according to the database ACLED, and 330 in 2020.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).