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ISIS Claims Responsibility for Mozambique Attack

JOHANNESBURG — The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a days-long ambush of a port town in northern Mozambique last week that forced tens of thousands of people to flee the area and left dozens dead, including some foreigners.

The attack on the town, Palma, was an alarming escalation of the war in the gas-rich province of Cabo Delgado, where insurgents with loose ties to the Islamic State have killed at least 2,000 people in a campaign of violence over the past three years.

In recent months, the local insurgency has grown in strength and seized large swaths of territory, including the region’s other main port town. Last week’s attack demonstrated a new level of boldness from the insurgents and was the closest the group has come to a multibillion-dollar gas project that is operated by international energy companies.

Few analysts believe that the Islamic State in the Middle East maintains a close relationship with the insurgency, which was born out of frustration over local grievances and shares few of the Islamic State’s ideological aims. But claiming responsibility for the deadly attack underscores the organization’s ability to leverage loose ties with militant groups around the world to create the impression of a truly global struggle.

attempted to escape by road on Friday. Militants ambushed a 17-vehicle convoy shortly after it left the hotel, the Amarula Palma, and only seven of the vehicles made it to the beach, where a fleet of boats was rescuing hundreds of people trapped in the town.

At least one South African, Adrian Nel, 40, was killed in the escape attempt from the Amarula Palma Hotel. Several other South Africans are still missing and presumed dead, according to private security contractors, and at least one British citizen was missing as of Sunday night.

This month, the United States formally designated the insurgency, known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a, as a global terrorist entity and U.S. Special Forces soldiers began training Mozambican troops. The insurgents became identified with the Islamic State Central Africa Province in 2019.

Still, many analysts say the insurgency remains a homegrown crisis, born out of an array of grievances that have long plagued the impoverished region.

“This is a domestic insurgency based on domestic grievances,” said Joseph Hanlon, a visiting senior fellow at the department of international development at the London School of Economics, who is an expert on Mozambique. “There are loose ties but the insurgents have not seceded control to IS.”

He added: “This is not an Islamic jihad.”

Since militants overran the town on Saturday, the Mozambique military and contractors with a South African private military brought in by the government have tried to flush the insurgents from the town. But militants still control much of Palma, including the town’s banks, government offices, factories and army barracks, according to a statement that the Islamic State released on Monday.

In recent days, tens of thousands of people have fled Palma for nearby areas, worsening a humanitarian crisis that has escalated drastically over the past year.

At the start of 2020, the conflict had displaced 18,000 people in Mozambique, according to the World Food Program. By the beginning of this year, that number had grown to over 600,000.

“The crisis had been escalating for some time,” said Lola Castro, regional director for Southern Africa for the program. “But at this moment we are looking at a humanitarian disaster.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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As Militants Seize Mozambique Gas Hub, a Dash for Safety Turns Deadly

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — As gunshots rang out across a port town in northeastern Mozambique on Friday afternoon, nearly 200 people sheltering inside the Amarula Palma hotel confronted a devastating reality: The armed insurgents outside the hotel’s doors had all but taken control of the town and there was no one coming to save them any time soon.

For two days, hundreds of insurgents in the gas-rich region had been laying siege to the coastal town of Palma, firing indiscriminately at civilians, hunting down government officials and setting buildings ablaze as security forces tried in vain to repel them.

The violence sent thousands of people fleeing, with some rushing to the beach, where a ragtag fleet of cargo ships, tugboats and fishing vessels was ferrying people to safety.

But at the hotel, with daylight hours dwindling, the local residents and foreign gas workers who remained faced an impossible choice: Either wait inside, defenseless, for a promised evacuation in the morning, or try to make it to the beach.

campaign of violence the militants have unleashed. Insurgents have beheaded civilians in summary executions and left homes, schools and health centers destroyed.

Many analysts say that the insurgency is a home grown-crisis and that the group only maintains loose ties to the Islamic State. Still, the jihadist rallying cry has provided a banner under which mostly impoverished people angry about an array of local grievances can coalesce. It has also inspired the use of the international terrorist network’s brutal tactics.

Few journalists and human rights investigators have been able to report firsthand on the conflict from Mozambique, where government forces and private security contractors have also been implicated in abuses against civilians. And as the attack on Palma unfolded last week, phone lines and other communications in the town were cut by insurgents.

Joseph Hanlon, a visiting senior fellow at the department of International Development at the London School of Economics who is an expert on Mozambique.

The Mozambique government guaranteed Total that it would secure the development, and Total said it would not hire private security companies like the Dyck Advisory Group, which was recently implicated in a report by Amnesty International of killing civilians.

“This attack is arguably the most significant yet, given that foreigners also came under the cross hairs of insurgents and because Palma is the gateway to the gas megaprojects,” said Dino Mahtani, deputy director of the Africa program at the International Crisis Group, who recently visited Mozambique. “It will lead to more pressure on Mozambique for hard military responses, perhaps at the expense of other policies that should still be on the table.”

Earlier this month, the United States formally designated the insurgency, known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a, as a global terrorist entity after the group became identified with the Islamic State’s Central Africa Province in 2019.

engulfed in sporadic fighting between the militants and national security forces as helicopters operated by the South African private contractors flew overhead.

By Friday morning the usually serene Amarula Palma Hotel, a sprawling compound with an outdoor bar and thatched-roof awnings that caters to foreign workers from countries like South Africa and the United Kingdom, had transformed into a chaotic epicenter of the crisis. By midday insurgents had surrounded the hotel and attacked, breaching its perimeter.

Helicopters operated by the private South African security company managed to evacuate 22 people. But with both fuel supplies and the light dwindling, contractors told the roughly 180 people who remained that they would not be able to fly them out until the following morning.

Dozens of people decided to chance an escape by road in the convoy that was ambushed.

On Saturday morning, the South African-operated helicopters evacuated around 20 more people who had remained in the hotel. Several others who had escaped the town and hid in the surrounding bush were also rescued by helicopters. Some had flagged the helicopters by writing out S.O.S. messages in stones, according to Mr. Dyck.

At the same time, a convoy of at least 10 vessels sailed into the bay of Palma in an informal effort to evacuate people, according to the ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com.

Twelve hours later, they sailed south together. Several of the ships docked at Pemba, where humanitarian workers say thousands of people who were displaced by the ambush were receiving aid on Sunday.

A passenger ferry that usually operates along the coast of neighboring Tanzania also docked in Palma on Saturday and arrived in Pemba the following day, according to ship-tracking data, satellite imagery and photographs shared on social media. Local sailors on traditional wooden sailing boats, known as dhows, also carried some displaced people to Pemba, according to humanitarian workers.

While some of the fleet’s efforts were successful, other boats that attempted to come ashore to rescue people were forced to pull back when militants opened fire with small arms and mortars, according to American officials. At least one American citizen was at the gas project site near Palma during the attack, but was safely evacuated to Pemba, according to a U.S. official.

On Sunday morning, Mozambique Special Forces units launched an operation to reclaim the town. But by Sunday night, militants still held much of Palma, including the harbor, the officials said.

One British citizen who was part of the convoy who worked at RA International, a contracting company headquartered in Dubai, was missing as of Sunday night, according to an executive at the company.

At least one South African, Adrian Nel, 40, was killed in the ambush on the convoy.

Mr. Nel had been in Palma working at his family’s construction consulting company alongside his brother Wesley Nel, 37, and their stepfather, Gregory Knox, 55, who were also caught in the ambush. The two men managed to escape to the nearby forest and hid until private security contractors evacuated them by helicopter the following morning.

“They spent the night in the bush, with Adrian’s body,” Mr. Nel’s mother, Meryl Knox, 59, said in an interview. Ms. Knox spoke with her husband on Wednesday as the attack unfolded and the private security contractors who rescued the men by helicopter on Saturday.

“The insurgents had surrounded the hotel and there was no help from the Mozambican army,” Ms. Knox said. “These guys were just left on their own.”

Christina Goldbaum reported from Johannesburg, South Africa. Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, D.C. Declan Walsh reported from Nairobi, Kenya.

Lynsey Chutel contributed reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa. John Ismay contributed reporting from Washington, D.C. Charles Mangwiro contributed reporting from Maputo, Mozambique. Haley Willis, Christiaan Triebert and Malachy Browne contributed reporting from New York.

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Indonesia Church Rocked by Explosion on Palm Sunday

An explosion ripped through a Roman Catholic cathedral compound in the eastern Indonesian city of Makassar on Sunday morning, shattering the calm of Palm Sunday, a holy day for Christians.

Unverified video said to have been taken at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral showed smoldering wreckage and palm fronds scattered on the ground.

Father Wilhelmus Tulak, a priest at the cathedral, told Metro TV, an Indonesian network, that a parking attendant had been burned as he tried to stop a suicide bomber. Ten people were injured, the priest said.

The cathedral was between Masses when two motorcyclists approached, looking suspicious, Father Wilhelmus told Metro TV.

three Christian churches were bombed in Surabaya, the second-largest city in Indonesia, leaving a dozen bystanders dead. The suicide bombers were a married couple and their four children. Within days, members of two other families also set off bombs in Surabaya, blowing themselves up.

Last year, a Roman Catholic cathedral was bombed for the third time on the island of Jolo in the southern Philippines, killing at least 14 people. As with the Surabaya bombings, a local affiliate of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for that strike. A 2019 suicide attack on the same cathedral, which killed more than 20 people, was carried out by an Indonesian couple.

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