MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: World Tour with our reporter in Africa, Onize Ohikere.
ONIZE OHIKERE, REPORTER: Today we’ll be staying here in Africa with a special report from Mozambique.
An offshoot of the Islamic State terror group has claimed responsibility for an attack on the coastal city of Palma. Fighting started last Wednesday, and insurgents remain in control of most of the city.
William Els is an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa.
ELS: We saw that they looted all the banks, they looted all the stores for foodstuff for themselves. And also we saw that they started burning down some of the buildings. So they are in complete control of the area. They blew up the cell phone towers. So there’s also no or limited communication with the people there.
Survivors who fled the city reported a gruesome scene. Bodies lying in the streets, some beheaded. The attackers claim to have killed at least 55 people, including foreigners.
AUDIO: [man speaking Portugese]
A spokesman for Mozambique’s Defence Ministry confirmed at least seven people died when the rebels attacked a convoy trying to escape a hotel popular with foreigners. He said the military has rescued hundreds of others. But thousands of people remain unaccounted for.
Families with loved ones stuck in Palma waited in nearby Pemba for news. This woman is looking for her husband, who works for the World Food Program.
AUDIO: [woman speaking Portugese]
Palma is on the edge of one of the world’s largest gas deposits, offshore in the Indian Ocean. French company Total is leading the effort to extract the liquified natural gas, an investment estimated at $20 billion dollars.
Jakkie Cilliers is another analyst with the Institute for Security Studies. He explains why the rebels want to gain control of the city.
CILLIERS: Now, the problem is that Mozambique has not effectively controlled the northern part of its territory. And then there’s this massive gas find which offers potential to the region. But locals are not seeing anything. What they are seeing is hundreds of foreigners, including South Africans, expatriates and elsewhere, coming in to build and to design and to provide resources. But very little of that is coming to the locals. And because of the organized crime component of this, the one feeds into the other, and eventually desperate people resort to desperate means.
Total stopped work at Palma in January after earlier attacks by rebel forces. Last week’s attack came hours after the company announced plans to resume development at the site. Plans they have now suspended again.
Zenaida Machado is a Human Rights Watch representative based in Mozambique. She urged the government to put local residents first in their effort to retake the city.
MACHADO: The priority should never be to protect only the infrastructures and investments. People should feel that they are in a country that has a government that respects human rights, that is committed to their obligations according to the national constitution and also international law.
The rebels launched a similar attack on the nearby port city of Mocimboa da Praia in August. Government forces failed to retake that city after more than a week of heavy fighting.
Earlier this month the United States declared Mozambique’s rebels a terrorist organization and sent military specialists to help train the Mozambican military to fight them.
That’s this week’s World Tour. Reporting for WORLD, I’m Onize Ohikere in Abuja, Nigeria.