(Bloomberg) — Fighters linked to Islamic State took control of a northern Mozambican port town that’s been a key logistics link for a $23 billion natural-gas project being built by Total SE, according to Risk Advisory Group.
It’s the third time this year the insurgents have seized Mocimboa da Praia, located about 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of the LNG project and the closest harbor. About three months ago, fighters that first pledged allegiance to IS 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 finalized an initial $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,” Tristan Gueret, an analyst at RAG in London, said by email on Wednesday.
Total didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
Gas projects in the country’s northern-most 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’s 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,” 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 “neutralize” the militants, it said.
The Southern African Development Community and the African Union should urgently assist Mozambique to end the insurgency and help the displaced populations, the Pretoria, South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies said in a statement Thursday. SADC leaders are set to meet on Aug. 17, when Mozambique takes over the chairmanship of the regional bloc from Tanzania.
“Military action by the Mozambique government, including the continued use of mercenaries, has not stopped the attacks and has worsened the plight of civilians,” the ISS said. “Left unchecked, the insurgency is likely to grow and spill over into neighboring countries.”
–With assistance from Paul Burkhardt.