At the heart of the attack in Palma, the trap of the Amarula hotel
Des gens évacués de la ville de Palma, à l'aéroport de Pemba (Mozambique), le 31 mars. (ALFREDO ZUNIGA/AFP)
By: Estacio Valoi and Cécile Andrzejewski / International Media Support
12 April 2021 at 15h55
More than two weeks after the attack by a jihadist group in the town of Palma, in the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, the bodies of twelve decapitated white people probably foreigners were discovered on the outskirts of the Amarula Hotel. The graves were shown to TV crews on Wednesday, and police Commander Pedro Silva told TV the buried bodies were all white and thus presume foreign, tied with the hands behind their back, and beheaded. His description is not confirmed, and they are not that many foreigners reported missing.
Nearly two hundred people had taken refuge there during the Islamist attack. Two survivors tell the story of the hell of the ambush in which they fell.
What happened at the Amarula Hotel? At the end of March, nearly two hundred people, expatriates, foreign workers and Mozambicans, took refuge there when the town of Palma, in the north-east of Mozambique, was attacked by Al-Shabab jihadists. Since then, the coastal city, located a few kilometres from a mega gas project of the French group Total has been taken over by the army and, little by little, handfuls of inhabitants are returning home.
They are returning to a city that has been battered by the bloody attack. They were the ones who made the macabre discovery: in the shade of the trees, in front of the hotel lodge, twelve bodies lying with their hands tied behind their backs and their heads cut off. Little information was released about their identities, but the authorities announced that all were foreigners. Lionel Dyck, head of the Dyck Advisory Group, a South African private military company, confirmed to AFP that "one of his men" was among the victims.
A driver employed by a company under contract to Total, Afonso was working not far from Palma when the jihadist attack began on March 24. "On the way to the market to buy food, we saw people running around," he recalls. A colleague took him and others by car to the Amarula Hotel. "When we got there, we realized that we were living the war, I have no other word, and it was really a massacre. “Domingo, a fellow survivor, black cap on his head, nods gently: "Many people tried to enter the hotel, but the owners prevented them, they locked the door. We managed to get in thanks to our manager, Tobias. »
They spent three days there, during which time the hotel was besieged by Islamist insurgents. "The sound of bullets echoed all around," Domingo said. According to several testimonies, on the second day, the owner of the hotel fled in a helicopter, taking his dogs with him, leaving many refugees behind. In a March 31 interview with Ouest France, Lionel Dyck, the head of the private military company - accused by Amnesty International of having carried out "repeated and ruthless attacks” against Mozambican civilians in 2020 - explained: "Our pilots spotted cries for help, drawn on the ground by people taking refuge in hotels. We first rescued 20 people from the Amarula Hotel. In total, we were able to rescue 240 people and it's not over yet. "In a weary tone, Afonso says, "They only took the important people. The owner took three women, possibly employees, and his two dogs. They left. They only rescued the foreigners who were there, leaving all the Mozambicans behind. »
"We're stuck here together, we're escaping together"
Some of the settlement's officials are calling Afungi, the enclave where the French group Total is building its gas development site, to find out if the helicopters will return. The answer was no. "A kind of demonstration" broke out in the hotel to protest against the decision to evacuate foreigners first. "We demonstrated inside the Amarula Hotel: we are stuck there together, we escape together," says Domingo. We quickly realized that if we stayed there, it could be worse," says his colleague, still as calmly. Only a few kilometres separate the hotel from the beach of Palma, where several inhabitants fled the attack by sea, aboard boats of all kinds.
On March 26, in the late afternoon, a convoy of 17 vehicles set out. But as soon as it passed the hotel gate, the convoy was ambushed. Only seven cars escaped. For the moment, the death toll stands at seven and sixty people are missing. According to the New York Times, at least one South African, Adrian Nel, 40, was killed in the ambush.
According to Domingo, the assault started from the military checkpoints, which had fallen under the control of the jihadists. About a kilometre after leaving the Amarula, we were attacked," Afonso said. They shot at us with a bazooka that hit the car behind us. Some people jumped out of the car, others ran. God wanted us not to be hit. "For a mile, he continued driving, mentally counting the number of bodies on the ground - six, one of them decapitated, with his head on the roof of an abandoned white truck. “Our car had no brakes, nothing left. We rolled and hit a tree. Almost everyone in the car passed out. "When they woke up, they walked several dozen kilometers through the bush and finally reached Afungi, before reaching Pemba, where thousands of Palma residents fleeing the jihadists had converged. “Our wish was to leave this place. Thank God we made it. »