The terrorist attack on Palma on March 24 has led to the deaths of a number of people and expatriate workers.
Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa (ASWJ) attacked the town, which is close to Total’s Mozambique LNG plant.
A group of expatriates took shelter in Amarula Lodge, in the town’s north, with the hope of safe evacuation. When help failed to come, a convoy of 17 vehicles made a break for it. Terrorists ambushed the convoy, according to local sources.
The attack killed an unknown number of expatriates, including a South African, Adrian Nel.
The Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) helped some expatriates leave, using helicopters to fly them out to the Afungi LNG Park. The South African military contractors have recently lost their contract to provide security in Cabo Delgado.
South Africa’s Daily Maverick reported 185 expats had been sheltering in the hotel.
Mozambique’s Defence Ministry said on March 25 that it had launched an operation to secure Palma.
The terrorists entered the hotel on March 27, killing some expats.
The ASWJ assault was “very co-ordinated”, Joseph Hanlon, in Mozambique News Reports and Clippings, said. He compared it to the attack on Mocimboa da Praia in 2020.
Insurgents had infiltrated the town in the days leading up to the attack. On March 24, three groups attacked simultaneously, with more arriving by truck. Hanlon said there were “at least 150 fighters”.
Some other expats from Palma managed to escape on boats and travelled to Pemba.
Human Rights Watch has reported a number of locals killed, some of whom the terrorists had beheaded. The attackers killed at least 21 soldiers, Pinnacle News has said.
The attack targeted banks and healthcare facilities, as well as security facilities and local mobile telephone equipment.
Total, in a statement, said plans to remobilise to Mozambique LNG were “obviously now suspended”. No Total employees were among the victims, it said.
“Total has decided to reduce to a strict minimum level the workforce on the Afungi site. Total trusts the government of Mozambique whose public security forces are currently working to take back the control of the area,” it said.
Nel’s mother, Meryl Knox, interviewed by SABC, expressed disappointment that efforts to save those trapped in Palma had been so slow.
“I’m disappointed South Africa wasn’t allowed to send troops in to help with this situation … Mozambican government has had this problem ongoing for a long time and they’ve had offers to help from different countries,” she said.
“This whole situation could have been avoided. I ask you how 100 insurgents are able to capture a town and plunder and destroy and no one does anything for two days. It’s just too terrible.” Knox’s husband and other son were also in Palma. They escaped.
Nel had been working as a diver in Congo but lost his job in the downturn. He went to Palma to help construction of camps for Mozambique LNG.
The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) warned citizens to avoid the area around Palma. If you are in place, “you should follow the advice of local authorities and avoid leaving your residence unless you are in immediate danger”.
The UK 🇬🇧 wholeheartedly condemns the appalling violence in Cabo Delgado. It must stop. We stand with the people of Mozambique against terror.
We are contacting British people in the region to provide support and are updating our travel advice regularly https://t.co/oslmPNqzKs
— James Duddridge MP (@JamesDuddridge) March 28, 2021
The US has recently designated the Islamist insurgents in Cabo Delgado as terrorists.
The attack is likely to intensify pressure on the Mozambique government to bring in international support. The government has been slow to allow any access to the area.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is eager to provide support for those displaced. However, the NRC is still waiting for visas from Mozambique.
The horrific violence in #Palma and elsewhere in Northern #Mozambique has lead to a humanitarian crisis. @NRC_Norway has done assessments, can deploy relief and experts and is ready to scale up help, but we are waiting for visas. https://t.co/WmafgViZBh
— Jan Egeland (@NRC_Egeland) March 27, 2021
US military advisors began training local troops in March. Some reports have suggested the US is increasing its presence in Mozambique and France has despatched French Foreign Legion forces.
The South African government expressed “grave concern” over the attack. It has taken steps to provide more capacity at the embassy in Maputo, it said.
“South Africa stands ready to work with the government of Mozambique in pursuit of lasting peace and stability,” the Department of International Relations and Co-operation said.
The African Energy Chamber’s executive chairman NJ Ayuk linked the terrorist attack on Palma to a desire to disrupt plans for LNG exports.
“These terrorist attacks if not taken seriously will cost the Mozambican government billions of dollars in lost investment and LNG earnings,” he said.
The Mozambique Defence Ministry was due to hold a press conference on the situation in Palma on the evening of March 27.