Survivors and family members of victims of a gruesome jihadist attack in northern Mozambique in 2021 have initiated legal proceedings against France’s TotalEnergies, accusing the energy giant of neglecting to safeguard contractors at a multi-billion-dollar gas field. The attack, carried out by Islamic State-linked militants, claimed the lives of numerous individuals when they assaulted the Mozambican port town of Palma in March 2021, prompting thousands to seek refuge in the surrounding forest.
The attack, which unfolded in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, spanned several days, during which the militants relentlessly pursued people in both the town and the forest, with some victims suffering beheadings. The plaintiffs in this case allege that TotalEnergies, which managed a $20 billion liquefied natural gas project near Palma, failed to ensure the safety of its local suppliers.
While the Mozambican government initially reported approximately 30 casualties in the attack, independent journalist Alex Perry, who conducted a comprehensive five-month investigation into the incident, documented a staggering toll of 1,402 people dead or missing, including 55 Total contractors.
The seven plaintiffs, hailing from the United Kingdom and South Africa, include three survivors and four relatives of victims. They accuse TotalEnergies, which was still known as Total in 2021, of inadequately assessing the threat to individuals working on the massive gas project. Henri Thulliez, their legal representative, argues that the danger was well-documented, citing previous attacks on several villages and the looming jihadist threat.
Notably, Total’s competitor, ExxonMobil, had withdrawn from the project in 2019 due to concerns over the escalating insurgency that had already displaced hundreds of thousands of people in Cabo Delgado before the Palma attack.
TotalEnergies faces further accusations of failing to provide assistance to people in distress, allegedly refusing to supply fuel to a private South African security company responsible for evacuating individuals from a lodge via helicopter.
In response to queries from Le Monde newspaper, TotalEnergies asserted that its Mozambican subsidiary had extended “significant” assistance to civilians affected by the attack. The company claimed that when the jihadists launched their assault, they devised plans to evacuate all staff at the Afungi site, where the gas field is located, and employed a ferry to transport people to safety.
In July 2021, Rwanda and southern African nations deployed troops, aiding Mozambique in regaining control of much of Cabo Delgado.
Despite sporadic and low-level jihadist attacks persisting in parts of Cabo Delgado, TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanne has expressed his intent to relaunch the Palma project in the near future.
This legal action against TotalEnergies follows another recent criminal complaint against the French energy giant. Environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the company last week, alleging “climaticide” over its controversial oil project in Tanzania and Uganda.