Dozens of people are dead following an attack on the town of Palma in northern Mozambique, according to a spokesperson from the country’s defense department.
Seven were killed trying to escape a siege on a hotel, said Omar Saranga. Hundreds of others, both locals and foreigners, were reportedly rescued. The area has been under attack by Islamist militants since Wednesday. Witnesses have described hiding out while waiting to be rescued by boat, on a beach strewn with headless bodies. Marine traffic websites showed a string of vessels around Palma, and the port of Pemba to the south, as people tried to escape by any means – cargo vessels, passenger ships, tugs, and recreational boats.
The exact number of casualties in Palma, a town of about 75,000 people in Cabo Delgado province, is unclear. Many are still unaccounted for. The town and beaches are strewn with bodies “with heads and without”, according to Col Lionel Dyke, whose private security firm, Dyck Advisory Group, is contracted by the Mozambique police in the area. The armed group is reported to have taken control of Palma, but those claims are hard to verify amid a communications blackout.
Militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) group are behind the conflict in the predominantly Muslim region of Cabo Delgado. The fighting has left more than 2,500 people dead and 700,000 displaced.