MAPUTO/DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Eleven people were killed in an attack last week by an Islamist militant armed group in northern Mozambique near its border with Tanzania, Mozambican police said on Wednesday.
Several of the attackers from the Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama (ASWJ) group were later arrested, police added, referring to a militia operating in the gas-rich northern province of Cabo Delgado province since at least 2014.
Six people were wounded in the raid, said Orlando Mudumane, spokesman for Mozambique Police’s General Command, adding that the arrested gunmen included both Mozambicans and foreigners.
“On 26 of June, 2019, a group of bandits perpetrated an attack in the village of Itole, in Palma District, killing 11 civilians; 9 Tanzanians and 2 Mozambicans,” he said.
He dismissed reports the that deaths were by beheading, a method of killing used by the group in some previous attacks.
“All of them died of gunshot wounds, no beheadings. The defence forces combed the area and have already detained some elements of the group, foreigners and nationals.”
Information about the attack has been scarce, with conflicting accounts from local and international media on the number of deaths and nature of the attack in the Muslim-majority region of the southern African nation.
Last week’s ambush was the latest in a spate of execution-style attacks in the area since 2017 that have so far killed more than 100 people, while forcing hundreds to flee into the interior.
Tanzanian security officials on Saturday also confirmed the attack and number of deaths, but were unsure of the identity of the suspects.
“The attack took place on June 26 in Mozambique where the Tanzanians had gone to work in paddy fields,” Tanzania’s police chief Simon Sirro said at a weekend briefing near the border.
“According to eyewitness accounts, unidentified gunmen raided the paddy farmers and carried out the attack.”
Sirro said Tanzanian and Mozambique police had launched a joint investigation into the incident.
Impoverished Cabo Delgado, surrounded by dense forests and isolated villages, houses a growing clutch of multinational companies developing one of the biggest offshore gas finds in a decade - estimated to be worth at least $30 billion.
Whilst the attacks have mostly targeted civilians and government buildings, in February U.S. energy giant Anadarko said one worker was killed and several others injured in two attacks near the construction site for its massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Cabo Delgado.
The attacks by the Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama, or “followers of the prophetic tradition”, have drawn comparisons to Islamist groups in Tanzania, Somalia, Kenya and the Great Lakes region.
In common with Boko Haram in Nigeria, it touts a radical form of Islam as an antidote to what it regards as corrupt, elitist rule that has broadened gaping inequality.
Reporting by Manuel Mucari in Maputo and Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala in Dar es Salaam; Writing by Mfuneko Toyana, Editing by William Maclean