The Mozambique army is battling Islamist insurgents in a town in the country’s north, near billion-dollar gas projects developed by Exxon Mobil and Total, police said.
The General Commander of Mozambique police, Bernardino Rafael, said insurgents attacked Mocimboa da Praia and its army barracks before dawn on Monday, wounding dozens.
Mocimboa da Praia is 350 km from Pemba in Mozambique’s northern province Cabo Delgado and south of the Afungi peninsula, where gas projects worth $60 billion are.
The town was until recently the main airport for workers travelling to the site, until a landing strip was built at Afungi. Its port is used for some cargo deliveries for the projects.
“Mocimboa da Praia is currently an active combat zone,” Rafael told reporters at police headquarters in Maputo.
The army was doing all it could to restore security and warning people to stay away, he said.
The insurgents started attacks in Cabo Delgado in 2017, threatening security in a nation set to become a global gas exporter following a major gas find offshore of the province.
Little is known about the insurgents. Initial attacks were claimed by a group known as Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama. More recently, Islamic State claimed a number of attacks.
More than 900 people were reported killed in the province since 2017, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project, an NGO.
The frequency of attacks has increased, leaving some analysts concerned the insurgency could be a growing threat and could disrupt the projects.
Alexandre Raymakers, Senior Africa Analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said the attack highlighted serious gaps in security and raised questions about Mozambique’s ability to defend the developments.
While Raymakers said the LNG infrastructure and personnel will remain “aspirational targets”, the insurgents will likely be emboldened by successes and increase the tempo of operations.