SA man hid with his son's body in bush during Mozambique attack, with dozens now confirmed dead

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Adrian Nel.
Adrian Nel.
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  • The Mozambique government has confirmed that dozens of people were killed in the town of Palma this week.
  • The area has been besieged by extremists.
  • More than 1 000 people were ferried to safety via boats.
  • A South African, Adrian Nel, is among the dead, his mother confirmed.

Dozens of people were killed in an attack on the northern Mozambique town of Palma this week, a spokesperson for the country's defence and security forces said, including seven people when a convoy of cars was ambushed in an escape attempt.

Hundreds of other people, both local and foreigners, have been rescued from the town, Omar Saranga told journalists on Sunday.

Seven were killed in an ambush during an operation to evacuate them from a hotel where they had sought refuge, AFP reported.

A British contractor was among the dead, killed when suspected Islamist insurgents attacked his hotel compound, The Times reported earlier.

Hundreds of people fleeing the attack are arriving by boat in the port city of Pemba, a diplomat and an aid worker said.

READ | Mozambique attacks: SA man uses AK-47 he found in abandoned government vehicle to ward off insurgents

Militants struck Palma, a logistics hub for international gas projects worth $60 billion, on Wednesday. The government has yet to re-establish control, the diplomat and a security source directly involved in the operations to secure Palma said.

Reuters could not independently verify the accounts, as most communications with Palma were cut on Wednesday. Calls to officials at the foreign ministry and provincial government went unanswered or did not go through on Sunday.

The government has said it is working to restore order in Palma.

The boats arriving in Pemba on Sunday carried both locals and foreigners, including employees from the gas projects, the aid official and diplomat said. One boat was carrying around 1 300 people, said the diplomat.

'He shouldn't have died'

A South African, Adrian Nel has been killed in the violence in Mozambique, his mother Meryl Knox has told media.

Her husband and another son hid with his body in the bush until the following morning, when they were able to make it to safety in Pemba, she said. 

Knox told Sky News that her son was working as a contractor in the area. He had been there since about 8 January.

Her message for the Mozambique authorities was: "Please, you should have had a better army. You should have called your neighbours for help or the international community. There have been horrific crimes against humanity."

She claimed that insurgents sent "flyers" warning that there would be an attack. She said insurgents had attacked a nearby village recently. 

Knox said: "I feel that my son shouldn't have died. There should have been more help. I believe the Mozambique army didn't try to protect them."

She said she felt there should have been sufficient protection for the locals in the area.

She said Nel, her other son and husband were waiting at the Amarula hotel waiting to be evacuated. She said he had lived near the hotel. 

"I just got news that there had been an attack. We couldn't get hold of anybody on the phone." She said her husband later contacted her via a satellite phone last Wednesday to inform her of the situation. "We heard about horrific conflict going on. I believe there were 190 people in the hotel." 

She said she last heard from her family on Friday, after they had received word that they were waiting to be evacuated. Her husband and son have Nel's body, and a visibly upset Knox said they are trying to get the body back to South Africa.

She said she heard about Adrian's death on Saturday. Her other son and husband "managed to get away" and were "too traumatised" to speak of the incident.

She described Nel as a "joyful" person. "He brought love and kindness and joy to everyone he met. Relatives love him to pieces, he's just the heart of the family and a ray of sunshine."

Minimum

French energy group Total said on Saturday it was calling off a planned resumption of construction at its $20 billion development following the attack and would reduce its workforce to a "strict minimum".

The company pulled out the majority of its workforce in January due to insecurity in Cabo Delgado province, which has been the target of an insurgency linked to Islamic State since 2017.

Witnesses have described bodies in the streets of Palma, some of them beheaded. On Friday, militants ambushed a convoy of people, including foreign workers, attempting to escape a hotel.

Government-contracted helicopters were searching for more survivors. Lionel Dyck, who runs a private security firm working with the government, said his helicopters had rescued at least 17 people on Sunday.

The number of people injured and killed in the four-day assault on Palma, or still unaccounted for, remained unclear. The town had previously been a refuge for people fleeing violence elsewhere in the province.

- Additional reporting by Kerushun Pillay

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