Efforts to evacuate people trapped after an attack by militants in Mozambique’s northern town of Palma are continuing, despite the tense situation there, a security advisory firm said late Monday.

“We have rescued 120 people who had run away and hidden in camps,” Retired Col. Lionel Dyck, the CEO of Dyck Advisory Group, which was contracted to help the Mozambican government and gas companies fight militants there, told local broadcaster SABC.

Dyck said his group also managed to escort numerous people who could not board their helicopters to places of safety.

“There are numerous dead bodies lying on the streets, some decapitated. We are currently not counting bodies but focusing on the living,” he said, adding the situation in the area is still quite chaotic.

An armed militant group believed to be affiliated with the Daesh/ISIS terrorist group attacked the town of Palma in Cabo Delgado province near the border with Tanzania last Wednesday, killing dozens and injuring scores of others, while several people still unaccounted for.

The area is rich in natural gas, and companies such as France’s Total SA are exploring onshore development of liquefied natural gas (LNG), but experts say attacks could derail the project.

Omar Saranga, spokesman for the Mozambique Defense and Security Forces, confirmed in a statement Sunday that dozens of people including both locals and foreigners had been killed.

Saranga did not mention the nationalities of the dead, but local media named South African national Adrian Nel as one of the foreigners killed in the brutal attack.

The militant group locally known as al-Shabaab but with no established links to the armed militant group in Somalia has wreaked havoc in northern Mozambique since late 2017, killing hundreds, displacing communities and capturing towns.

It has exploited the people’s desperation of poverty and unemployment in the area to recruit in large numbers.

Dyck said the militants were previously a group of bandits until they claimed affiliation to Daesh/ISIS and have since become a serious threat.

“This was a very well planned and coordinated attack,” the retired soldier said, adding the group even has heavy weaponry now.

He appealed for assistance with Mi-8 helicopters, which he says could help evacuate stranded people hiding on the ground, as his gunship helicopters can only carry a few people.

South Africa, SADC in talks to eradicate terrorism

Meanwhile, South Africa’s ambassador to Mozambique, Siphiwe Nyanda, said late Monday that his country was in talks with the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional block of 15 countries, to seek solutions that will end terrorism in Mozambique.

He said many South Africans who were working in Palma have now been moved to Pemba, a town nearby, and some crossed into Tanzania.

Nearly 670,000 people are now displaced in Mozambique due to the conflict in Cabo Delgado – almost seven times the number reported a year ago.

At least 2,614 people have died in the conflict, including 1,312 civilians.

Humanitarian agencies say the situation has seriously deteriorated over the past 12 months with an escalation of attacks on villages.

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