Helicopter gunships exchanged fire with suspected Islamist insurgents as fighting raged for a second day around a gas hub town in northern Mozambique, a security source and a diplomat said.

The government said security forces were working to restore order in Palma, which is adjacent to gas projects worth $60bn led by companies including Total, after it came under a three-pronged attack on Wednesday.

The attack, in a province that has since 2017 been targeted by Islamist insurgents with links to Islamic State, began hours after the French oil major said it would resume work on the project after halting it for security reasons.

Bodies were visible in the streets, some of them beheaded, the security source told Reuters on Thursday. Reuters could not independently confirm that detail.

The assault was the first significant one on Palma, which hosts several international companies looking to cash in on one of the biggest gas finds in a decade.

Total had suspended activities at the site in January due to safety issues, and requested that the government create a 25km “special security area” around it as a condition for returning. Palma falls within that zone.

The government said it had no information about casualties or damage as communications to the town had been cut.

Helicopters contracted by the government provided air support as small groups of people fled by road, the security source  who was involved in the operation to secure Palma  said.

Total had no immediate comment on the impact of the attack on its operations.


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