Maputo, Mozambique, April 7 – Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi on Wednesday said Islamic State-linked insurgents had been forced out of Palma, a northern town hit in a brazen raid last month that left dozens of dead and forced thousands from their homes.
In his first substantive public comment on the attack, Nyusi said “the terrorists have been chased from Palma,” but added: “We do not declare victory, because we are fighting terrorism.”
Nyusi — speaking on the eve of a regional summit on the crisis — said his government had made requests for help. He did not give details.
“Our government has already expressed its needs to the international community to deal with terrorism. This international support… is being evaluated,” he said, in an address to mark Mozambique’s national women’s day.
“Those who come from outside will not come to replace us,” he added. “They will come to support us. It is not about empty pride. It is about a sense of sovereignty”.
Insurgents seized Palma, a coastal town close to a multi-billion-dollar liquid natural gas (LNG) project, after a coordinated attack launched on March 24.
They vandalised a hospital and torched banks and a prosecutor’s office, state television TVM said at the weekend.
Broadcast images of the aftermath showed military guarding the streets as a few remaining residents picked through debris. One soldier pulled black plastic sheeting over a dead body lying on the floor.
The assault claimed dozens of lives, according to the authorities, while the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says more than 11,000 were forced to flee.
Many walked for days through the forest with little food and water before reaching neighbouring districts, where aid groups are providing humanitarian assistance.
Hundreds of others crossed into southern Tanzania, from where they have been forcibly returned, according to the UNHCR.
French energy giant Total has meanwhile pulled out all its staff from the LNG plant on the Afungi peninsula, viewed as a cornerstone project for the Mozambican economy.
The UN also suspended evacuation flights out of Afungi, where thousands of escapees gathered to seek shelter, citing security concerns.
– Emergency talks –
Nyusi vowed to “overcome terrorism” and said the government was working to upgrade training and equipment for its military.
Mozambique’s authorities have repeatedly assured Palma is fully back in government hands — a claim disputed by several analysts and security sources.
Six southern African presidents are to meet in the Mozambican capital Maputo on Thursday for emergency talks on the crisis and “deliberate on measures to address terrorism”.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) announced on Tuesday that the presidents of Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe will attend.
The assault is the latest in a string of more than 830 jihadist attacks battering Mozambique’s remote Cabo Delgado province since 2017.
The violence has killed over 2,600 people and forced more than 750,000 others from their homes, according to estimates.
Nyusi repeated his offer of an amnesty to Mozambicans who have joined the jihadists’ ranks.
“To those who have lost their way and ended up on the side of the terrorists, we call on them to return. We are ready to receive you and reintegrate you into society, ” he said.
Cabo Delgado’s jihadists are a shadowy group known as al-Shabaab, although they have no known ties to the Somali militants bearing the same name.
They pledged allegiance to the so-called IS in 2018 and aim to establish a caliphate.
On March 11, the US State Department labelled the insurgents an IS-linked terror group that had killed more than 1,300 civilians and blacklisted its leader, Abu Yasir Hassan.