Maputo — The Mozambican defence and security forces launched an offensive on Sunday against Islamic State terrorists in the northern town of Palma, reports Sunday's issue of the independent newssheet "Carta de Mocambique".
The terrorists, known locally as "Al Shabaab", launched a three pronged attack on Wednesday afternoon against Palma, and sporadic clashes continued for the next three days.
According to "Carta de Mocambique", the Mozambican offensive on Sunday involved ground and naval units, with air support. It was successful in driving the terrorists out of the town.
One of the paper's sources said "The insurgents are running away. They've run out of ammunition and food, and they're fleeing towards the Rovuma river (the border with Tanzania)".
But the paper claimed that terrorist reinforcements are arriving, and clashes have resumed in the vicinity of Palma.
Speaking to reporters in Maputo on Sunday night, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence, Col Omar Saranga, said "dozens of people" had been killed in the terrorist attacks.
In particular, he confirmed that seven people died on Friday when the jihadists ambushed a column of vehicles attempting to take people out of the besieged Amarula Hotel.
Saranga said the defence forces were "cleansing" Palma of terrorists, "in order to guarantee safe return of the population".
He stressed that the raiders had been unable to occupy any of the positions held by the defence and security forces who had held their ground in Palma, and had ensured the evacuation of hundreds of people.
Saranga said the Mozambican forces are continuing to pursue the terrorists intending "to eliminate some pockets of sporadic resistance".
Some people escaped from Palma to the Afungi Peninsula, where a consortium headed by the French oil and gas company Total is building gas liquefaction plants. A ship carrying about 600 people made its way from Afungi to the Cabo Delgado provincial capital, Pemba. These were mostly employees (Mozambican and foreign) of Total and other companies involved in the gas project.
Other ships are expected to arrive in Pemba on Monday, and people with relatives in Palma are anxiously awaiting their arrival.
The British daily "The Guardian" reported that about 60 people are missing, feared dead, after the Friday attack on the convoy. The convoy consisted of 17 vehicles, but only seven made it to safety. The seven confirmed dead were in the recovered vehicles. It is feared that the terrorists killed everyone in the other ten vehicles.
One of the dead in the convoy was identified in South African media as Adrian Nel, who was killed when he, his father and younger brother joined the convoy attempted to escape from the hotel. Nel's body and family members were rescued by helicopter on Saturday and taken to Afungi.
His mother, Meryl Knox, told the French news agency, AFP: "As they were leaving [the hotel], they were ambushed. They shot my son. There's no way to possibly describe what you feel when you get news like that. It's just devastating".
One particularly alarming report came from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) , which said "at least 12 South African citizens" are believed to be part of the group that attacked Palma.
The radio claimed that many South African security experts are calling for SADC (Southern African Development Community) to intervene and counter the possibility of any terror attacks on South Africa.
The Senior Training Coordinator at the South African Institute of Security Studies (ISS), Willem Els, said the islamist raids in Mozambique pose a huge threat to South Africa, both politically and economically.
A South African police spokesperson, he said, had admitted there were at least 12 South Africans fighting with the Islamic State terrorists in Mozambique. "That gives you an indication that they are very active in their recruitment here in South Africa", he told SABC. "Unfortunately, it will have a spin-off in South Africa; not only on the political front, but also on the economic front as you can see lots of South Africans are working there (in Cabo Delgado)."