Maputo — The international terrorist network calling itself "Islamic State" has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack against the town of Palma in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado.
A statement in Arabic, carried on the AMAQ news agency website, claimed that the terrorists killed 55 people, including both members of the defence and security forces and civilians,
The statement is illustrated by a photograph of a crowd of people surrounding a man dressed in black believed to be a leader of the group. But the photo, supposedly from Palma is demonstrably fake.
The independent newssheet "Carta de Mocambique", noticed that, at the back of the photo can clearly be seen a road sign indicating that the crowd is at the entrance to Mocimboa da Praia, a town occupied by Islamic State in August last year. Using a photo that was taken in an entirely different place is a sign that the terrorists were unable to send their media any usable photos of Palma.
The Islamic State claims that it is in control of Palma, but during the days following the Wednesday raid it was never able to drive the Mozambican forces out of the town. On Sunday night, the Mozambican armed forces (FADM) announced that they are in control of the greater part of the town, and are flushing out remaining pockets of terrorist resistance.
Journalists finally reached Palma on Monday. A helicopter carrying Mozambican television crews overflew Palma, and what they saw was a ghost town. Smoke was still rising from some installations attacked by the islamists, and ambushed vehicles lay in the roads where they had been abandoned.
Nobody could be seen on the streets. The entire population appeared to have fled. Some people made their way to the Afungi Peninsula, where a consortium headed by the French oil and gas company Total is building gas liquefaction plants. From there they were taken, by air or by sea, to the provincial capital, Pemba. Others trekked northwards towards the Rovuma river and the Tanzanian border, where they were able to make cell phone contact with their relatives in Pemba.
Other survivors walked for 100 kilometres to the town of Nangade, where, according to a report in Tuesday's issue of the independent newssheet "Mediafax", they said the raiders had singled out state employees for attack.
Speaking in Swahili, the terrorists said they wanted to seize public officials because they believed they could use them as bargaining chips to oblige the Government to implement sharia law. Apparently they believed that these officials were the obstacle to implementing Islamic religious norms in Cabo Delgado.
These survivors thought the terrorists had attacked the Amarula Hotel because they knew that many government staff had sought refuge there. "They also wanted the Palma district administrator", said one of these survivors.
Among those who made their escape to Nangade, reported "Mediafax", were 14 children who had become separated from their parents. They were accompanied by other survivors, but did not know what had happened to their parents.