A group linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) has killed several people in Mozambique and over 180 people are trapped inside a hotel which is under siege.
The attack started on March 25 in the town of Palma, in northern Cabo Delgado province by a group Al-Shabab and Al-Sunna wa Jama’a which is linked to ISIS, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The organisation said it contacted several witnesses who saw bodies on the streets and residents fleeing after the Al-Shabab fighters fired indiscriminately at people and buildings.
New site Al Jazeera said the attack has happened near a liquefied natural gas (LNG) site where French oil giant Total is the principal investor in the $20bn project.
Residents to fled into the surrounding forest while government and LNG workers sought shelter at the Amarula Palma hotel where they are now trapped.
“Almost the entire town was destroyed. Many people are dead,” one worker told Al Jazeera.
One man at the hotel said in a clip that they had run out of food and water.
“We don’t know if we will be rescued,” he said.
According to HRW, mobile phone signals have been disrupted, making it harder to obtain information about the situation, the casualties, and the whereabouts of many residents. The armed group is also targeting civilians in their homes in violation of the laws of war.
“Al-Shabab fired on civilians in their homes and on the streets in Palma, as they tried to flee for their lives,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Mozambican authorities should move swiftly to protect civilians and bring all those responsible for abuses to account.”
Mozambique’s Defense Ministry announced on March 25 that an army operation to restore order and security in Palma was underway.
The ministry spokesman said that the group “attacked the town of Palma in three directions: Pundanhar – Manguna crossroads, Nhica do Rovuma road, and the Palma airfield.”
Districts in Northern Cabo Delgado have been the center of fighting between government forces and the armed Islamist group since October 2017, when Al-Shabab attacked a string of police stations in the area, causing two days of government lockdowns.
Al Shabab forces have been accused of attacking villages, carrying out summary executions including beheadings, looted, and destroying d civilian property and infrastructure, including schools and health centers.
HRW says fighting between the group and government forces has left more than 1,500 civilians dead and displaced more than 600,000.