Armed groups on Wednesday attacked the northern Mozambique town closest to gas projects worth some $60 billion, two sources told Reuters, striking ever closer to developments that have already stalled due to security problems.
The attack on the town of Palma, less than 25 km (15 miles) by road from a construction camp for the gas developments led by oil majors like Total, happened on the same day that the French company announced it would gradually resume works at the site after suspending them due to nearby attacks.
Mozambique’s northern-most province of Cabo Delgado has since 2017 been home to a festering militant insurgency on the projects’ doorstep, which has escalated in the past year as insurgents, linked to Islamic State, began taking on the army to seize entire towns.
Portuguese state news agency Lusa first reported the attack, which was confirmed to Reuters by a security source and another source familiar with the matter.
Reuters was not able immediately to verify the reports with officials, as calls to the spokespeople for the defence and security forces as well as police were not answered. A local Total spokesperson could not immediately be reached.
Lusa, citing sources, said automatic gunfire could be heard in Palma and people were fleeing. It said later communication was cut off.
Initially known for beheadings, the insurgent group has in the past year managed to take control of entire towns, including one, Mocimboa da Praia, used as a transit point for goods and workers related to the gas developments.
Palma’s proximity to the projects means it has even more strategic importance and is seen as a base for both the operations and workforce of many companies that have moved into the region in hopes of cashing in on one of the biggest gas finds in a decade.