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Seven survivors and relatives of victims of a bloody 2021 jihadist attack in northern Mozambique have launched legal action against France's TotalEnergies, accusing it of failing to protect contractors at a multi-billion-dollar gas field, their lawyers said Tuesday.
Islamic State-linked militants killed dozens of people when they attacked the Mozambican port town of Palma in March 2021, sending thousands fleeing into the surrounding forest.
The attack in Cabo Delgado province lasted several days, during which the militants hunted people in the town and forest. Some of the victims were beheaded.
The plaintiffs in the case accuse TotalEnergies, which ran a $20 billion liquefied natural gas project near Palma, of failing to ensure the safety of its local suppliers.
Mozambique's government said around 30 people were killed in the attack but Alex Perry, an independent journalist who carried out a five-month investigation into the massacre, counted 1,402 people dead or missing, including 55 Total contractors.
'Danger was known'
The seven British and South African plaintiffs in the case --- three survivors and four relatives of victims -- accuse TotalEnergies, which was still known as Total in 2021, of failing to properly assess the threat to people working on the massive gas project, their lawyer Henri Thulliez told AFP.
"And yet the danger was known. Several villages had already been attacked before the Palma attack, and there was a real jihadist threat," he argued.
Total rival ExxonMobil had pulled out of the project in 2019 over what it saw as the excessive threat from the insurgents who had already displaced hundreds of thousands of people in Cabo Delgado province before the Palma attack.
Total is also accused of failing to assist people in danger for allegedly refusing to supply fuel to a private South African security company that was evacuating people from a lodge by helicopter.
Responding to questions from Le Monde newspaper TotalEnergies said Tuesday its Mozambican subsidiary had provided "significant" help to civilians caught up in the attack.
It said that when the jihadists struck it made plans to evacuate "all the staff working at the Afungi site" where the gas field is situated, and that its subsidiary had used a ferry to whisk people to safety.
In July 2021, Rwanda and southern African countries deployed troops which helped Mozambique retake control of much of Cabo Delgado.
TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanne has indicated that he hopes to soon relaunch the Palma project, despite sporadic and low-level jihadist attacks continuing in part of Cabo Delgado.
This is the second criminal complaint against the French gas giant in days.
Last week, four environmental groups launched legal action against the group for "climaticide" over a controversial oil project in Tanzania and Uganda.
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