US petroleum company Anadarko placed staff working on a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in northern Mozambique under “lock-down” due to the threat from suspected Islamist militants in the area, a regional security consultant said.
Anadarko, looking to raise a record $14-$15 billion for the plant, said last week it was monitoring the situation after a spate of beheadings and kidnappings but declined to comment on specific security issues.
The consultant, who is familiar with the security situation, said the firm prevented its workers going beyond the perimeter of the planned plant on the coast of Cabo Delgado province, abutting the border with Tanzania.
“They can’t leave the site,” the consultant said.
Besides Anadarko, Italian energy giant Eni is in northern Mozambique to develop gas fields in the offshore Rovuma Basin, believed to hold 85 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – enough to supply Germany, Britain, France and Italy for nearly two decades.
The first attacks by suspected Islamist militants came in October, when locals reported gangs armed with machetes attacking police stations, torching villages and executing religious leaders.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said at least 39 people were killed and more than 1,000 displaced since May. The United States and Britain advised citizens to stay away from the area.
Security consultants and domestic media describe the attackers as members of Al-Sunna wa Jama’a, an unknown Islamist group. Locals also refer to the attackers as “Al-Shabaab”, although there are no known links to the Somali group of the same name.
People in Cabo Delgado told HRW attackers burnt a mosque and beheaded an Islamic leader in a June 5 attack that saw hundreds of homes torched and scores of cattle slaughtered.
The New York-based rights group accused Mozambique security forces of an indiscriminate and heavy-handed response, citing one military unit commander who said his troops would not “waste our time” handing over suspects.
“If we find them in the bush, we will kill them there,” the soldier was quoted as saying.
A government spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Mozambique has no history of Islamist militancy and authorities are reluctant to ascribe the attacks to Islamists. About 30% of Mozambique’s 30 million people are Roman Catholics, while 18% are Muslim.