In tragic and disturbing attacks on the 24th of March, Mozambican civilians were violently ambushed in their hometown Palma, leaving dozens dead, including a British man. The local organisation, al-Shabab militia attacks were linked and claimed by terrorist organisation IS, which have settled in the North of Mozambique since 2017. The insurgents have perpetrated Palma in the hopes of expanding their Islamic influence, sparking fears that this attack was merely a warning of bigger things to come.
The attacks drove locals from their homes whilst armed men pulled innocent people from their cars and lorries on the road and murdered them. Children as young as 11 were beheaded in front of their parents, unable to help them in fear of their own lives. Some insurgents also stormed Hotel Amaarula in Palma, killing 7 civilians including a British man, Philip Mawer.
Shocking images surfaced online from helicopters searching for bodies among the massacre in the woods of Palma, and corpses lying around the town in public places. The UN states that since 2017 the rise of Islamic influence in Mozambique has solidified with a total of 2750 children have been killed and over 700,000 displaced from their homes. The African country was also badly affected by the Covid-19 crisis, leaving over 10,000 homeless and therefore more vulnerable to terrorists. The reasons for IS involvement in Mozambique is not yet clear, and no distinguished goal has been established despite the frequent attacks. However, last year a similar event occurred in Xitaxi, killing over 52 people in Mozambique. It is reported that analysts predicted the recent attack a while in advance.
Palma is located 6 miles from one of Africa’s largest rich offshore gas reserves, which has seized all production and dismissed their employees amid safety concerns. The IS terrorists surrounded the factory from 3 sides. The factory, owned by the French energy company TOTAL, attracts reputable foreign investors and projects are underway to revolutionise Mozambique’s economy through investments of over $60 billion.
The international response to the attack was rapid and sympathetic. The former colonial power Portugal has offered troops to counter the violence and drive IS out of Mozambique. Simultaneously the US has offered military and medical aid to Mozambican troops, deploying their own soldiers and offering training to citizens to combat IS. The US embassy has recognised these insurgents as “terrorists”, pushing for appropriate counterterrorism methods.
However, Amnesty International has called out the Mozambican government for human rights abuse from mercenaries which have been acting alongside the police in the region. These counter forces have “not demonstrably helped” combat against the insurgents, the US counter-terrorist co-ordinator John Godfrey commented. The government have denied all human rights abuse claims.
Therefore, the essential question in play is whether counter-terrorist efforts will be enough to combat the local al-Shabaab militia insurgents, or whether larger scale attacks are currently being planned. There have been claims of the insurgents wanting to expand their influence in the South of the country. The atrocious acts of violence must be condemned by the Mozambican government and international aid should work towards preventing further attacks through military training and co-operation.