Suspected jihadists on Wednesday staged a second brazen attack in northern Mozambique in three days, seizing and destroying a police station, sources said.
On Monday the jihadists surrounded Mocimboa da Praia, a town in the gas-rich province of Cabo Delgado, attacking a military base, ransacking government buildings and hoisting their flag before pulling back.
At dawn on Wednesday, they raided the town of Quissanga, a police officer in Macomia, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) away, told AFP.
“In 20 minutes or so the police surrendered and they (the Islamists) captured the district police headquarters and destroyed it,” the sources said.
A photograph seen by AFP showed eight masked and camouflaged fighters, armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, posing in front of the partly burned offices.
One of them hoisted a black-and-white flag with Arabic inscriptions on it.
– ‘Better hide than resist’ –
“Many people are fleeing by boat, trying to escape to the (provincial) capital Pemba,” 60 kms away by sea, a journalist there said.
The Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP), affiliated with the so-called Islamic State group, claimed Monday’s attack.
“Clashes took place with a variety of weapons, which led to killing and wounding dozens of elements, while the rest of them fled, and the mujahideen captured weapons, ammunition and multiple vehicles, then returned safely to their positions,” it said in a statement released late Tuesday.
The toll could not be verified independently, and the government has not released any figures.
In Macomia, a small town situated between Quissanga and Mocimboa da Praia, panicky residents and security officers were Wednesday fleeing their homes and bases for fear of possible attacks.
“People here started leaving their houses at dusk to seek refuge in the forest,” said a police officer in Macomia. “It is safer to sleep in the bush than in houses”.
“I’m also going to hide my gun and hide in the bush. We don’t have the capacity to react to a possible invasion. Better to hide than try to resist,” he said.
The defense and interior ministers visited Cabo Delgado on Tuesday to assess the damage after Monday’s attack, according to cabinet spokesman, Filmao Suaze.
Cabo Delgado has been battered by jihadist attacks since October 2017, although the identity of the assailants remains unclear.
Locals call the group Al-Shabaab, but it is not linked to the group of the same name operating in battle-scarred Somalia.
More than 700 people have been killed, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), and at least 100,000 people have been displaced, according to the United Nations and humanitarian agencies.
President Filipe Nyusi vowed to stem the Cabo Delgado attacks after he was sworn in for a second five-year term in January.
But government troops have been struggling to restore order, despite pressure by oil giants to deploy more soldiers in the area.
A military source in Pemba speculated that the insurgents involved in the attacks are mainly ex-army personnel who had either been demobilised or deserted.
“They know the area and the response capabilities of the defense and security forces,” he said.
Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International´s regional deputy director, has said the rise in attacks is the “culmination of a tragic failure” by the government to protect people. AFP