A convoy of fleeing civilians, including foreign nationals, was ambushed by suspected Islamist insurgents in a northern Mozambique town, officials have said.

At least one person in the convoy was killed, according to security and diplomatic sources who spoke to Reuters, as an Islamist insurgency in the northern province of Cabo Delgado continues.

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The news agency said it could not independently verify the accounts given by three individuals and three organisations with employees trapped inside a hotel in the own of Palma.

Escalating violence in the south African nation has left thousands dead and many magnitudes more have forced from their homes in a growing security and humanitarian crisis.

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The domestic Islamist group, Ansar al Sunna, has been active since 2017 and is alleged to be affiliated with Islamic State. It launched a significant attack on the town of Palma on Wednesday.

According to the Mozambique government, security forces are attempting to restore order in the town, which is adjacent to gas projects worth £43bn.

Almost 200 people were sheltering inside the Amarula Palma hotel as of Friday, according to a count Reuters established through three diplomats and one of the organisations with people inside.

A diplomatic source from Spain told the news agency that a Spanish resident and other foreigners have locked themselves within a protected room in the hotel.

Rescue efforts had been under way before the ambush, according to Lional Dyck, the head of Dyck Advisory Group, a South African private security company that works with the Mozambique government.

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Thousands flee Islamists in Mozambique

The convoy was comprised of people in vehicles attempting to escape the besieged hotel but they were ambushed just outside of it, according to Mr Dyck and other sources.

The South African security professional said his helicopters had managed to evacuate more than 20 people on Saturday.

Reuters reported that it was not immediately clear how many people, if any, remained in the hotel and how many were missing.

Ansar al Sunna’s years-long insurgency is growing in brutality, according to experts, with mass executions taking place in the municipalities it occupies in running battles with the government’s security forces.

The group has been is accused of beheading children as young as 11 as part of its insurgency, according to British charity Save the Children.

The South African national defence forces were deployed to the Cabo Delgado in 2020 to assist the Mozambican government against the insurgents.

In a statement released on Saturday, the South African government “noted with concern the recent attacks in Palma, northern Mozambique, against foreign nationals” and confirmed that South Africans were also affected by the attacks.

“In this regard, South Africa, through its Mission in Maputo is working with the local authorities on verifications, as well as providing the necessary consular services,” the government statement said.

“The Mission in Mozambique is being re-enforced with additional staff in order to handle the work at hand of locating, identifying and responding to the respective needs of the affected.

“South Africa stands ready to work with the government of Mozambique in pursuit of lasting peace and stability,” it added.