Around 170 people who attempted to flee the Hotel Amarula in Palma, Cabo Delgado on Friday afternoon fell into an ambush by Islamist insurgents — with at least seven killed but likely many more, with many remaining unaccounted for.
Expatriate and Mozambican workers, along with local VIPs including the district administrator, sought refuge in the Amarula after insurgents attacked Palma town on Wednesday, 24 March, and most were still there on Friday, 26 March, after the helicopter evacuation plan was aborted after only a few people — including the district administrator — were taken to safety.
By Friday afternoon, a plan was enacted to leave the hotel in 16 or 17 vehicles, ideally under cover of air support from helicopter gunships operated by DAG, the private military company contracted by Mozambique’s interior ministry.
According to multiple accounts from people closely following the situation, the convoy was attacked shortly after leaving the hotel. Seven vehicles made it through the ambush and headed for a beach north of the town. They arrived by 17:30 local time, with around 100 of them still there by 23:00, hoping for boats to come and rescue them. An unconfirmed report on Saturday morning said 104 had been rescued off the beach.
A report on Friday's events by a security consultant said “a large number of expatriates were killed” by insurgents following the ambush, citing eyewitness reports. Another source with contacts in the region said half of the group may have been killed.
Civilians beheaded, town destroyed
Pinnacle News reported on Friday evening that two thirds of the town of Palma has been burned over the last three days, tens of civilians have been decapitated or shot, and at least 21 members of Mozambique’s defence and security forces have been killed, citing eyewitness reports.
Most of the population fled, or tried to flee, when the attacks started on Wednesday. Some headed north to Tanzania, or inland towards Pundanhar, but many headed for the beach to sail by dhow to the provincial capital of Pemba, Pinnacle reported.
Other groups of civilians are hiding out on the Afungi peninsula, close to the LNG project operated by French oil major Total, and protected by a Joint Task Force of military, police, and security employed by Total — who are said to have stood their ground, in contrast to the defence and security forces in the town of Palma who quickly capitulated, according to multiple sources.
The town was densely populated at the time of the attack, mainly due to a huge influx of refugees fleeing insurgent attacks in surrounding areas over the last few months. Total had just announced a restart of construction works on its $20bn LNG project, following the implementation of a new security agreement with the Mozambique government, when the town was attacked on Wednesday. The French oil major had pulled all but essential staff from the project, when insurgents attacked on the edge of the project on 1 January.
Mozambique’s Ministry of Defence confirmed the attack in a press conference on Thursday morning, but have said nothing further since. Total have yet to comment publicly on the events in Palma, or to respond to Zitamar’s inquiry as to whether the attack affects their plans to restart work.
This article was produced by Zitamar and Mediafax under the Cabo Ligado project, in collaboration with ACLED. The contents of the article are the sole responsibility of Zitamar News.