PALMA, 26 March 2021 – Heavy gun battles are ongoing for a third day in the strategic northeastern Mozambican town of Palma in the Cabo Delgado province.

Residents say gunshots and loud explosions could be heard all across the town as early as 4 am on Friday.

Members of al-Shabab in Cabo Delgado - Photo Geeska Africa

Members of al-Shabab in Cabo Delgado – Photo Geeska Africa

The fighting Friday belies the claim made Thursday by government troops that they had regained control of the town.

Palma is situated near a multi-billion dollar oil and gas project managed by the French oil giant, Total.

Government forces have been trying since Wednesday to repel an attack on the town by Islamist militants who targeted banks, shops, a hotel, and the armory of the town’s riot police base.

Palma - Source World Oil

Palma – Source World Oil

News reports on Friday said one bank targeted by the insurgents had been ransacked and looted.

Mozambique’s armed and security forces said the assailants attacked but failed to take over and loot a military base in the town.

Al-Shabab, an IS-linked group, launched an insurgency in the region of Cabo Delgado in 2017, with attacks becoming deadlier each passing year.

No fewer than 2,000 people have been killed in the fighting since 2017.

At least 600,000 people have been internally displaced by the insurgency.

Mozambican Soldiers to Benefit from Training by American Special Forces - Photo CGTN Africa

Mozambican Soldiers to Benefit from Training by American Special Forces – Photo CGTN Africa

On Thursday and Friday, helicopters were evacuating foreign nationals and senior officers for the French oil and gas giant, Total, which runs a multi-billion dollar project.

Total workers only recently returned to work on the oil and gas platforms located on the Afungi peninsula.

Mozambique's $128 Billion Gas Project - Photo SASSDA

Mozambique’s $128 Billion Gas Project – Photo SASSDA

The French gas and oil giant suspended work on the project construction site in December 2020, citing security concerns triggered by similar attacks by Islamist militants in nearby towns.

Cabo Delgado Oil City, Part of the Total Project - Photo Club of Mozambique

Cabo Delgado Oil City, Part of the Total Project – Photo Club of Mozambique

Palma is crucial for the project, with Total relying heavily on it as a transit point for goods and workers.

A spokesperson for Mozambique’s ministry of defense, Omar Saranga, said Thursday that Maputo is yet to ascertain the number of casualties because the area is unreachable by phone.

The jihadists are infamous for beheading civilians and, on a few occasions, they have managed to capture, briefly hold control of towns before ceding them under attack by Mozambican forces.

Earlier this month, the US embassy in Maputo confirmed that American special forces were going to train Mozambican forces on how to counter Islamic fundamentalism.

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