ISIS-linked fighters seize Mozambique LNG port town as insurgency escalates

The Total project area is currently secured by a dedicated force. PHOTO: REUTERS

MOCIMBA DA PRAIA, MOZAMBIQUE (BLOOMBERG) - Fighters linked to militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took control of a northern Mozambican port town that's been a key logistics link for a US$23 billion (S$31.5 billion) natural-gas project that French oil and gas company Total is building, according to Risk Advisory Group.

It's the third time this year the insurgents have seized Mocimboa da Praia, located about 60km south of the LNG project and the closest harbour.

About three months ago, fighters that first pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2018 occupied it for as long as three days.

The site of Total's project is in the preparation stage, with the company having recently finalised an initial US$15 billion of financing and the town is among several access points to bring in supplies, including a port and airport at the development.

The fighting, though, shows an escalation of insurgent attacks in the region that authorities are battling to contain.

"The capture of Mocimboa da Praia, as well as the previous assaults on district capitals since March, shows that the capabilities of IS militants has improved," Mr Tristan Gueret, an analyst at RAG in London, said by e-mail on Wednesday (Aug 12).

Total didn't immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Gas projects in the country's northernmost Cabo Delgado province are central to plans to transform the impoverished southeast African nation.

Projected revenue from the developments are estimated at more than three times its current gross domestic product.

Mocimboa is where Islamist militants started a war in 2017 that has left more than 1,500 people dead, according to estimates from the Madison, Wisconsin-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, which tracks global violence.

The conflict has displaced 220,000 people in the region.


"Although it is another indication of the fast deterioration in the security environment in Cabo Delgado, the success of the attack in Mocimboa da Praia does not necessarily have major or immediate implications for LNG operations," Mr Gueret said.

The Total project area is "currently secured by a dedicated force, and this means that mounting a successful raid there would be much more challenging for the group", he said.

Even with the help of private military contractors flying helicopters armed with machine guns, the Mozambican government has struggled to curb the insurgency, which has grown increasingly brazen in its attacks this year.

Security forces have in the past seven days killed 59 fighters in the region and destroyed six of their camps, the government said in a statement.

Fighting is continuing in order to "neutralise" the militants, it said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.