Maputo — The Mozambican police have re-established control over the town of Mocimboa da Praia, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, where attacks by Islamic extremists occurred on Thursday, reports the independent television station STV.
Life in the town is beginning to return to normal, and people who had hidden from the attackers in the nearby bush are returning to their homes. The police, who are still scouring the area for surviving members of the attacking group, have imposed a night curfew, and are inspecting all vehicles entering the town.
Long distance bus traffic has resumed, but the police now insist that all passengers must pass through the police station and all bags must be checked.
Mocimboa da Praia residents, including local moslem leaders, told STV they had been aware of the existence of the extremist group since 2014, and had warned the authorities repeatedly about them. They confirmed that the group used the same name as the Somali terrorist group, Al-Shabaab.
STV's sources said the members of the group are Mozambicans, mostly from Mocimboa da Praia, but with some from other districts in the north of Cabo Delgado, including Macomia, Palma and Nangade.
STV was shown two makeshift mosques used by the group, one in what seemed to be an abandoned, half-finished building, and the other in a flimsy wooden shelter. The group had its own koranic school, and ordered its members not to send their children to Mozambican state schools.
The group wanted to impose "islamic law", and wanted to demolish the statues in Mocimboa da Praia that honour the country's heroes, including the founder of the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), Eduardo Mondlane, and Mozambique's first President, Samora Machel. They also wanted no Christian churches in the town.
The moslem leaders had no hesitation in describing the group's actions as "terror". National moslem leaders also distanced themselves from the raiders. Sheikh Amin Mohamed, head of the Mozambique Islamic Council (CISLAMO), told STV "Islam has nothing to do with this", and demanded stern punishment for the Mocimboa da Praia attackers.
According to the police, the death toll from the Thursday clashes stands at 16 - two policemen and 14 members of the "Al-Shabaab" group. The number of guns recovered from the raiders is now five.
The latest gun seized came from a wounded "Al-Shabaab" fighter who had taken refuge in a tree. He claimed he had been promised 2,500 meticais (about 40 US dollars) for taking part in the attack.
Cited by Radio Mozambique, this man claimed he was not a member of the organization. "I was sitting down when these people with guns came past and invited me to go with them to Mocimboa da Praia", he said. "I accepted because I too wanted to go to Mocimboa. But when we advanced, they gave me this gun".