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Survivor tells of a horrific escape from terrorists in Mozambique



Many are still unknown.

Andre is a foreign artist who does not want his real name to be revealed for fear of consequences. The memories of his three-day ordeal are written in his mind.

He and his team had worked at the huge complex run by the French oil company Total, a few miles north of Palma.

It was early afternoon and he had just finished taking a shower at the Amarula Hotel when he first heard the shooting. The hotel is just one of the few in the area and popular with performers.

Palma was attacked from three directions by Islamist militants known locally as Shabaab – or the youth.

Shabaab has been waging a brutal campaign in Mozambique̵

7;s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado for four years, but so far almost all of its attacks have been against villages, the province’s Christian population and security forces.

Things began to unravel quickly when other foreigners living or staying in Palma began arriving at the hotel seeking shelter.

Shortly afterwards, the fighters destroyed a local cell tower and communications collapsed.

The internally displaced people arrived in Pemba by boat on April 1, 2021 from the shores of Palma.

Desperate calls for help

Inside the hotel, guests and staff did their best to avoid attracting rebels to the hotel. All services, including cooking, were suspended and electricity was cut off to reduce noise.

“We spent the whole afternoon trying to get help,” says Andre. Some guests who had satellite phones called whoever they could. But with the rapid overcoming of the local military and no help materializing from the Total complex, dozens of foreigners and Mozambicans began to scramble and beg to survive the night.

“We spent the night under heavy fire,” he recalled.

Brutal attacks in Mozambique are

Audio and video received by CNN from someone at the hotel tell of a frightening scene, with loud shots separating the night.

The next morning, the first helicopters began hovering over Palma, some firing on rebels and others snatching a few to safety.

The helicopters belonged to a South African military contractor, the Dyck Advisory Group (DAG).

“Some DAG helicopters came and attacked rebel positions near the hotel,” Andre said.

DAG CEO Lionel Dyke said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that his people found out about people locked up in the hotel while “flying around Palma in search of terrorists.”

“One of my pilots landed at the hotel inside the site in the afternoon and told them he was going to take people out,” Dyke said.

“One helicopter made four trips, saving six people on a trip, a total of 24,” says Andre. “We chose people with disabilities, diseases, the elderly and made them go first.”

But dozens remained – under siege.

Andre, who is about 50 years old, was one of the next group of six to be rescued. But he says the DAG choppers did not return that day.

“The last helicopter left at 2:30 p.m., at 3:30 p.m., we knew they wouldn’t be back,” he said. “We kept calling, but on the other side we were told that the helicopters were going to charge.”

An internally displaced man made a gesture as he arrived in Pemba on April 1, 2021.

Bullets flying overhead

In an interview with CNN, Dyck explained that the main topic is daylight. “[My pilot] brought out 20 or 22 people, “he said.” It was too dark then and we had to go out. “

Dyke says his crews were still flying to Palma, rescuing civilians nearly a week after the rebels arrived for the first time.

Andre faced another night, not knowing if the terrorists would take over the hotel.

“All this time, bullets were flying from above, hitting trees, we could hear explosions nearby, there was a real panic,” he said. “It was even more chaotic when we realized we were going to have to spend another night at the hotel.”

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The food ran out and there was no sign of the Mozambican army or police.

“We tried to get help at all costs, each of us calling his contacts, no matter who he was, but on the other side of the line, not everyone was available to help,” says Andre. “It was awful.

“We heard their cries of Allah-Akbar (‘God is great,’ in Arabic) all night. All night,” he said. “But we managed to overcome it; and the next morning everyone was alive.”

He still does not understand why the rebels did not attack the hotel.

“We were not killed because they did not want to kill us,” he said, wondering if the rebels had been told to restrain themselves. “They were inside the hotel, they could shoot us if they wanted to,” he said.

Families are waiting for a boat carrying evacuees from the shores of Palma to arrive in front of the port of Pemba on April 1.

Terrifying escape

At the beginning of Friday, Andre and the other guests began to think of ways to escape. “We were discussing whether to stand still, waiting to be attacked and slaughtered like lambs, or whether we should run away.

“Around 11:00 in the morning, the helicopters returned and we thought the evacuation would resume, but we decided that the helicopters had returned to strike more,” Andre said.

“We realized we couldn’t stay there.”

A convoy of 17 vehicles was assembled.

“The first car in the column was an armored car and we put all the women and children in it, and it was the car that led the convoy,” Andre explained. “Right behind that car was me.”

Andre prepared his pickup. About 25 people crowded into it, some clinging to the top of the vehicle.

The internally displaced people arrived in Pemba on April 1, 2021 from the boat of the evacuees from the shores of Palma.

Towards the middle of the afternoon, the convoy made a safety strike, heading north to Tanzania.

“There was no immediate fire when we left the hotel, I think they were surprised, they didn’t expect us to leave in these conditions.”

But minutes later, the convoy was ambushed.

“The shooting started when we went out on the dirt road,” says Andre. “One kilometer later I felt bursts grazing the top of the pickup, fortunately they didn’t hit me.

“Another 500 meters and the armored car was hit by a bazooka. It shook a little, but still managed to continue,” added Andre.

Then he was hit – a bullet penetrated the car door and hit his leg.

“There was blood everywhere,” he says in a trembling voice. “I asked the man next to me to get behind the wheel, and yet I managed to walk another three kilometers with just one foot.”

On the way they saw corpses in the middle of the road. “I didn’t count them, but there were many.”

The people evacuated from Palma arrived on a humanitarian flight at Pemba Airport on March 31.

“My leg was destroyed”

Andre and the rest of the convoy headed north until they reached a fishing village near the border with Tanzania, stopping only when Andre nearly fainted from blood loss.

“My leg was destroyed,” he said.

It wasn’t until they reached the beach that the group realized that many of the cars had failed.

“Out of 15 cars, only eight reached the beach. The rest fell behind,” Andre explained.

Many of the convoy’s occupants are still unknown – a week later.

Mozambique’s Defense and Security Forces (FDS) said in response to the attacks that they regretted the death of “a group of citizens who rushed in a convoy of vehicles to leave the hotel”.

Dyck says they told the people staying at the hotel that they would be there the next morning, but the residents decided to make a dash for it.

“They decided not to wait – they may have had better information, but we knew the terrorists were outside and we had fired on a number of them and they engaged us from outside.”

Eventually, the group was taken by small boats that took them south to Afungi – and Andre was later flown to a hospital in South Africa.

He faces more surgery and long rehabilitation. Despite his trials, Andre plans to return to Mozambique.

“Mozambique is a beautiful country. The problem, as in many other parts of the world, is everything else.”


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