College burned in militant attack in northern Mozambique

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Militants torched a teacher training college run by a local charity in northern Mozambique, a director of the organization and a security analyst said on Thursday, although it appeared that no one had been wounded.

The attack took place in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, where a festering Islamist insurgency threatens security in a nation set to become a top global gas exporter. Hundreds of people have been killed since 2017.

Birgit Holm, director of ADPP Mozambique, a charity working in education, health, agriculture and renewable energy, said its college had been set alight but it did not seem like any students or staff had been hurt.

The alarm was raised during a spate of attacks nearby, allowing people from a nearby village and the school in Bilibiza time to flee before the militants reached them on Wednesday night, she told Reuters.

“But (the militants) were there, and they burned the place, we don’t know yet how much because nobody has dared to go back yet,” she said.

An institute of agriculture in Bilibiza run by the Aga Khan Foundation, an international development agency, was also hit, Holm and the analyst, Johann Smith, said. The institute told Reuters it was still gathering information.

A group known as Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama began staging attacks in the region in 2017. More recently, the Islamic State has claimed a number of the attacks via their media outlets.

The violence, including beheadings, the razing of villages and clashes with security forces, is unfolding on the doorstep of the biggest gas find in a decade, with projects being developed by the likes of Exxon Mobil Corp and Total that have the potential to transform Mozambique’s economy.

The frequency of attacks is growing, with around 16 so far in January, Smith said.

South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor said this week that attacks by militants affiliated with the Islamic State in neighboring Mozambique were cause for concern.

“History has shown that poorer regions are most vulnerable to violent external incursions as material incentives are easily disbursed to attract young people to these negative activities,” she told a conference in Pretoria, South Africa.

Reporting by Emma Rumney; Additional reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Alison Williams