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‘Running to save my life’ – Mozambique attack survivors tell of horror

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Luisa Jose, a 52-year-old mother of five, says she came face-to-face with Islamic State-linked insurgents when they attacked the gas hub town of Palma in northern Mozambique 10 days ago.

“I was running to save my life … they were coming from every street,” she told Reuters from a stadium in the port city of Pemba housing some of the thousands who fled the violence.

“I saw them with bazookas. They wore uniforms with red scarves … tied to their heads.”

Jose said the militants quickly overran her hometown of Palma, next to huge gas projects worth $60 billion.

Aid workers believe tens of thousands of people fled the assault, which began on March 24. However, just 9,900 of those displaced had been registered in Pemba and other parts of Cabo Delgado province, according to the U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA.

Many could still be hiding in the surrounding forest, said the international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, and those who emerged have recounted seeing bodies of others who died of hunger or dehydration along the way.

Some were also killed by crocodiles or perished in deep mud, according to a contractor whose employee witnessed both.

Displaced women sit on mats after fleeing an attack claimed by Islamic State-linked insurgents on the town of Palma, at a displacement centre in Pemba, Mozambique, April 2, 2021

LEFT BEHIND

Most communications to Palma were cut when the attack began, and Reuters has not been able to independently verify witnesses’ accounts.

A spokesman for Mozambique’s defence and security forces declined to comment on Saturday, while calls to the national police went unanswered.

The province of Cabo Delgado, where Palma is located, has been home since 2017 to a simmering Islamist insurgency now linked to Islamic State. Clashes between the militants and government forces around Palma continued as recently as Friday, security sources told Reuters.

South Africa said on Saturday that Mozambique’s neighbours would meet next week to discuss the insurgency.

Mozambique’s government has said dozens were killed in the attack on Palma but the full scale of the casualties and displacement remains unclear.

Fato Abdula Ali, 29, said she was separated from her husband and three children in the chaos. Nine-months pregnant, she couldn’t keep up with other residents as they made their escape and delivered her baby son alone in the bush. She cut the infant’s umbilical cord with a tree branch, she said.

Fato Abdula Ali, who gave birth while fleeing an attack claimed by Islamic State-linked insurgents on the town of Palma, sits with her child at a hotel in Pemba, Mozambique, April 3, 2021.

The next day, she said, she stripped herself of her blood-soaked clothes and found another group of people who took turns carrying her to safety.

“My whole body aches,” she said.

People wait for friends and relatives as a ship carrying more than 1,000 people fleeing an attack claimed by Islamic State-linked insurgents on the town of Palma, docks in Pemba, Mozambique, April 1, 2021.

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Zamfara killings: Buhari says it’s time to crush bandits

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President Muhammadu Buhari was aghast by the latest orgy of violence visited on innocent people in Zamfara State by bandits and issued a fresh order to security agents to crush the gunmen.

More than 25 people were killed in attacks on Gobirawa, Rini, Gora, and Madoti Dankule in Bakura and Maradun LGAs in Zamfara — the death toll has since risen.

The gunmen were said to have invaded the communities on motorcycles and shot sporadically, on Wednesday.

Reacting, Buhari said the “insane and persistent violence against innocent people must stop”, adding that “such wanton disregard for life will be brought to an end sooner than later”.

A statement by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, on Thursday quoted Buhari to have said this, adding,“These criminals should stop pushing their luck too far by believing that the government lacks the capacity to crush them.

“The violence against poor villagers who are struggling with poverty and other severe economic challenges is not going to be tolerated by this administration.”

He directed security agencies to close all existing gaps in their operations while expressing hope that the special operation launched by security agencies will prove decisive in ridding the state of the “frequent and horrifying” bandit activities.

“Let’s not give these criminals any opportunity to succeed by taking the war to their own camps and stop them in their tracks before they even have the time to respond under our massive fire power,” the president added.

Buhari reassured residents of the state of his administration’s determination to defeat the enemies, despite the latest setback.

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MASSOB rejects UK asylum offer, says it’s plot against Biafra

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The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has turned down the United Kingdom’s offer of asylum for its members.

It said the offer was an arrangement probably taken with President Muhammadu Buhari and the Federal Government to divert the attention of the people of Biafra.

A statement by MASSOB leader, Uchenna Madu, made available to journalists in Enugu, said the asylum offer was part of plans by the Buhari regime hatched with the British government against the emergence of Biafra.

The statement read in part, “The government of Britain is the sole architecture of the political, economic and religious problems of the people of Biafra in Nigeria even till today.

“It has not shown any remorse or apologise to the people of Biafra.

“Britain killed, maimed mesmerised and wounded our fathers, mothers and brethren through the Hausa Fulanis. MASSOB rejects their asylum gift.

“How can the chief persecutor of the people of Biafra suddenly turn to be our pacesetter? Britain and Nigeria can no longer deceive the world again concerning the plights of the people of Biafra.

“Our unified resilience, resolutions and unshakable spirit of no surrender will continue to hunt down this geographical expression called Nigeria.

“MASSOB demands referendum on Biafra not asylum.”

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Security: Avoid 14 Nigerian states, US warns citizens

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The United States has asked its citizens to stay away from 14 Nigerian states considered as hotspots of terrorism, banditry and kidnapping.

It stated this in its latest travel advisories even as it urged its citizens to “Reconsider travel to Nigeria”.

The US State Department in the updated advisory added at least 116 countries this week to its ‘Level Four: Do Not Travel’ list.

The UK, Canada, France, Israel, Mexico, Germany and others are on the list, citing a “very high level of COVID-19.”

Before Tuesday, the State Department listed 34 out of about 200 countries as “Do Not Travel.” The State Department now lists 150 countries at Level Four.

Nigeria is categorised as Level 3.

Unlike countries categorised as Level 4, based on the advice of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nigeria has a good rating on COVID-19 prevalence.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 1 Travel Health Notice for Nigeria due to COVID-19, indicating a low level of COVID-19 in the country”, the State Department said.

It listed areas American visitors should avoid, while in Nigeria as Borno, Yobe, and northern Adamawa states due to terrorism and kidnapping, Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, and Zamfara states due to kidnapping.

It also banned American citizens from going to Coastal areas of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, and Rivers states (with the exception of Port Harcourt) due to crime, kidnapping, and maritime crime.

In a country summary on Nigeria, the U.S. State Department wrote:

“Violent crime – such as armed robbery, assault, carjacking, kidnapping, hostage taking, banditry, and rape – is common throughout the country.

“Kidnappings for ransom occur frequently, often targeting dual national citizens who have returned to Nigeria for a visit, as well as U.S. citizens with perceived wealth. Kidnapping gangs have also stopped victims on interstate roads.

“Terrorists continue plotting and carrying out attacks in Nigeria, especially in the Northeast.

“Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting shopping centers, malls, markets, hotels, places of worship, restaurants, bars, schools, government installations, transportation hubs, and other places where crowds gather. Terrorists are known to work with local gangs to expand their reach.

“There is civil unrest and low-level armed militancy in parts of Southern Nigeria, especially in the Niger Delta region. Armed criminality, including kidnapping and maritime crime, is also pervasive in this region.”

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