Mozambique: Defence Forces Say They Are Hunting Down Terrorists

Maputo — The Mozambican defence and security forces say they have launched a manhunt against any terrorists who may still be left in the town of Palma, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.

Last Wednesday afternoon, Palma came under a three pronged attack from the terrorists known locally as Al-Shabaab, and who are linked to the self-styled "Islamic State" (which claimed responsibility for the attack).

Much of the population of the town fled, heading west to the Afungi Peninsula, where the French oil and gas company Total, heads a consortium building gas liquefaction plants, or to the town of Nangade. Others fled north, towards the Rovuma river and the Tanzanian border.

The terrorists destroyed mobile phone communications within Palma, but outside of Palma, people have been able to use their cell phones to contact relatives in the provincial capital, Pemba.

According to a report on Radio Mozambique, the defence forces are now checking anyone left in Palma to see whether they are genuine residents of the town, or have other good reasons for being there, or are terrorist infiltrators.

Cited by the radio, the spokesperson for the defence forces in the Northern Operational Theatre, Brig Chongo Vidigal, said "our force is here on the ground and for three days we have been carrying out aerial operations, and this has created some panic among the terrorists".

He said that the jihadists operate in small groups, often trying to blend with the local population, which makes it more difficult for the Mozambican forces to flush them out.

"But certainly there is no longer a large group of terrorists in Palma", he claimed.

Asked to leave a message for the population of Palma, Vidiga recommended that they remain calm, since the defence and security forces are on the ground, in pursuit of the islamist raiders.

It became clear that terrorists are still active inside the town when a group of Mozambican and foreign journalists landed in Palma on Tuesday, and came under fire.

The group was escorted by Mozambican troops, who ensured that they returned safely to Afungi. "We even learned how to crawl, something which none of us had probably ever done before," said a Radio Mozambique reporter.

"We suffered an ambush," said Antonio Tiua, of the independent television station, STV, "but the important thing is that we came out safe and sound".

Another boatload of people escaping from Palma arrived in Pemba on Tuesday. There were about 1,400 people on board, including workers from companies that provide services for Total in Afungi.

The Secretary of State for Cabo Delgado, Armindo Ngunga, warned of the possibility of terrorists infiltrating groups of displaced people.

"This is war", said Ngunga, cited by the German agency DW Africa, "These planes and boats are bringing victims, but they may also bring people who were on the other side, they may bring terrorists".

He told said workers that everybody disembarking from ships must be searched. "We cannot be too careful. Nothing can fail, otherwise we will be accommodating terrorists", Ngunga warned.

Marjorie Mupandare, of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), warned that aid organisations must not act on their own, but must always coordinate with the government .

"You must always coordinate, because we are here to help", she said. "So we must always be behind the government".

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