The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for last week’s attack on the Mozambican town of Palma, a local news site reported on Tuesday.
Hundreds of terrorists believed to be tied to ISIS stormed Palma on March 24. The resort town lies north of a natural gas processing plant that employs large numbers of foreign workers throughout the area. The jihadis laid siege to Palma, infiltrating military barracks, banks, shops, and homes.
The Islamic State formally claimed responsibility for Palma’s seizure through its online propaganda outlet, the Amaq News Agency, on March 29, saying the attack had “resulted in the deaths of 55 Mozambican forces and Christians including contractors from outside the country.”
A Mozambican affiliate of ISIS known locally as Shabaab, or “the youth” in Arabic, carried out the assault on Palma, according to the Associated Press. Shabaab is the colloquial term for the militant group, which has no known links to the Somali-based al-Qaeda affiliate “Al-Shabaab.” Mozambique’s Shabaab group was admitted to the Islamic State’s Central Africa Province (ISCAP) in 2019 and formally named “Ahl al-Sunnah wa al Jamma’ah (ASWJ).”
A top al-Qaeda leader issued statements this week seeming to challenge the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for the attack on Palma, noting that the photo used by Amaq News Agency to demonstrate ISIS’s presence in Palma was in fact an old photo taken when ASWJ seized Mocímboa da Praia, a key port town located 50 miles south of Palma, in August 2020.
“Using a photo that was taken in an entirely different place is a sign that the terrorists were unable to send their media any usable photos of Palma,” the Mozambican Information Agency noted on Tuesday, pointing to a practical reason for the discrepancy. The town of Palma and its surrounding area is believed to be under a communications blackout, with either limited or no telephone and internet access.
Palma’s communications blackout has made it difficult for journalists and government authorities to confirm details of the siege, including the number of people killed by ISIS over the past week. Many area residents remain unaccounted for. ISIS killed at least dozens of people in Palma from March 24-29 as its members attempted to take control of the town. The Islamic State remained in control of Palma as of March 29, according to Dyck Advisory Group, a South African private security firm hired by the Mozambican government to protect the town.
“My guys are engaging these terrorists in skirmishes. The terrorists have taken cover in houses, which is what they always do. They come out and shoot at the aircraft, and they have hit and shot at our aircraft often,” the firm’s CEO, Lionel Dyck, told the BBC on Monday. “Until we put sufficient troops in there to clear them out of the houses of Palma they will remain in control.”
Some survivors of the Palma siege “walked for 100 kilometers [60 miles] to the town of Nangade, where … they said the raiders had singled out state employees for attack,” the Mozambican Information Agency reported on Tuesday, citing the local news site Mediafax. “Speaking in Swahili, the terrorists said they wanted to seize public officials because they believed they could use them as bargaining chips to oblige the [Mozambican] government to implement sharia [Islamic] law. … [T]hey believed that these officials were the obstacle to implementing Islamic religious norms in Cabo Delgado,” the province in which Palma is located.