Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi said government forces had engaged in extensive fighting against insurgents after they attacked the town of Macomia in the gas-rich northern region on Thursday.
Nyusi’s comments on Saturday were the first time the government has acknowledged the attack on the town, which comes amid an Islamist insurgency in the province of Cabo Delgado that started in 2017 but has been gathering pace in recent months.
Macomia, 230 km (145 miles) from the provincial capital of Pemba, is the latest significant town to be attacked since the start of the year as militias with suspected links to Islamic State have stepped up attacks, briefly seizing the strategically important town of Mocimboa da Praia.
Analysts say heavy fighting followed the attack on Macomia, which began in the early hours of Thursday, when insurgents destroyed homes and infrastructure while residents fled.
“The latest battles fought by the Defence and Security Forces were huge, they were very productive,” Nyusi was quoted as saying by Radio Mozambique and state broadcaster TVM.
“We have information that top cadres of this force have been killed,” he said, referring to the insurgents.
Luiz Fernando Lisboa, the Bishop of Pemba, said hundreds of people had arrived in the city from Macomia in recent days. He has previously said around 200,000 people have fled to the city to escape the violence.
Little is known about the insurgents, though initial attacks were claimed by a group known as Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama.
More recently, Islamic State has claimed a number of attacks which security officials have struggled to contain.
Since starting a second term in January, Nyusi has vowed to dedicate more resources to fighting the insurgency.