Islamist militants terrorising remote communities in Mozambique’s Muslim-majority north mounted a fresh attack on Thursday, police sources said, striking Macomia district in an early morning assault.
Gunmen forced the population of several thousand inhabitants to flee, while the military and police withdrew from the area according to a police officer who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.
“We can’t defeat them. They’re very strong,” the officer who hid in the bush since dawn told AFP.
The attack comes a week after Mozambique called on its southern African neighbours to help it fend off the escalating jihadist insurgency that began in 2017.
Despite President Filipe Nyusi’s promises, neither the police nor the army, recently shored up by foreign private security companies, has succeeded in preventing attacks.
Called in from the port city of Pemba some 156km away, reinforcement helicopters operated by private security companies flew in a few hours after the assault erupted, to repel the attackers.
The officer said although government buildings were destroyed, the damage could have been worse if not for the air force response that pushed the militants back.
Over the last two years over 1 100 people have been left dead by the Islamist group known as “Al-Shabaab” that has swept through the gas-rich northern province of Cabo Delgado.
Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP), affiliated with the Islamic State group, has claimed some of the attacks in the region since last June posting images of slain soldiers and seized weapons.
The jihadists have grown bolder over the past two months, stepping up attacks into towns and unmasking themselves, openly declaring their campaign to establish an Islamist caliphate in the region.
Some 200 000 people have been forced to flee their homes, while there is also increasing concern among energy companies operating in the region.