An ex-police officer shot dead two militants after breaking into a government vehicle and grabbing an AK-47 as he escaped an ISIS-linked Islamist massacre in Mozambique.
Nick Alexander, a dual British-South African citizen, was rescued on Sunday having spent two nights crawling through the bush after his convoy fleeing a hotel in Palma was ambushed during his daring escape.
Seven people, including a British contractor, were killed as they fled the Amarula Lodge hotel compound after two days of gunfire near the site of a £14billion major gas project.
Philip Mawer, a caterer from Somerset who works at the hotel, has not been seen since the attack and is among an unknown number of expats who remain missing.
Thousands of survivors were evacuated by boat or plane on Sunday, with witnesses forced to wait on beaches strewn with headless bodies after the decapitations by the militants.
Battles are continuing between the insurgents and government forces after the terrorists arrived in Palma on Wednesday, Omar Saranga, a spokesman for Mozambique’s defence ministry, said in a statement.
Palma is six miles away from Africa’s biggest gas project which is run by French energy giant Total.
Briton Philip Mawer (left) has not been heard from since attempting to flee Palma, while Nick Alexander (right) grabbed an AK-47 to gun down two militants
An ex-police officer shot dead two Islamist militants after breaking into a government vehicle and grabbing an AK-47 amid the bloodshed in Mozambique
Dozens of people have been killed in an attack by Islamist insurgents on the northern Mozambique town of Palma
The Sea Star 1 has evacuated around 1,400 people, mostly workers from the French energy giant Total, after armed insurgents attacked the city of Palma
The rise of ISIS in Mozambique
Mozambique is a majority Christian country, with Muslims comprising around a fifth of its population.
A religious movement, Ansar al-Sunna, first appeared in 2015 in the north of the country, formed by followers of radical Kenyan cleric Aboud Rogo Mohammed who has been linked to the 1998 US embassy bombings.
The group attracted disaffected young men who resented a lack of opportunities in an area of rich natural resources.
It started building mosques and religious schools, becoming more and more popular with locals.
But in 2017, the group starting launching attacks and became known locally as al-Shabab, although they do not have any known connection to Somalia’s jihadist rebels of that name.
Militants started posting photos on the encrypted messaging service Telegram posing in front of the ISIS flag and praising its then leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Islamic State then confirmed that jihadis in Mozambique had joined its Central Africa Province division (ISCAP), along with militants in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They have since claimed responsibility for many of the attacks carried out in Mozambique, including brutal beheadings and massacres, often posting photos of the victims online.
In an official ISIS news bulletin in June last year, leaders taunted the West and African nations for failing to stop the insurgency in Mozambique, and said its interest there is financial with the country’s huge coal and gas reserves.
The militants still refer to themselves as al-Shabab but they are strongly considered by many to be an arm of ISIS, which was confirmed by US officials in December.
Coordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan Sales said: ‘What we’re seeing today is a committed ISIS affiliate that embraces the ISIS ideology, that embraces the ISIS tactics and procedures, and embraces the ISIS vision of a caliphate with territorial control.’
As part of ISCAP, al-Shabab is part of ISIS’s formal structure and the jihadi group in the Congo allegedly helped fund its Mozambican counterparts.
Attacks have become increasingly sophisticated, using new weapons indicating its involvement in the militant network.
The rebels are mainly active in Cabo Delgado province and their attacks became much more frequent and deadly in the past year as they look to hold strategic towns.
In August, they captured the port town of Mocímboa da Praia and nearby villages, one of the first territory gains by ISIS in months.
The terrorist group then declared Mocímboa da Praia the capital of its Central Africa Province.
The Islamist militants were initially fuelled by a lack of opportunities in an area rich in natural resources, and they fund themselves through trading heroin and ivory.
The insurgents are fighting against Western and Christian values as they seek to install a radical form of Islam and Sharia law in the country, targeting civilians as security forces struggle to quell their uprising.
Their attacks have left an estimated 2,600 dead and caused 670,000 to flee their homes, creating a humanitarian crisis.
US special forces arrived in Mozambique this month to train marines in counterinsurgency.
Mr Alexander is one of hundreds of expats working as a contractor on the natural gas site where he builds camps for the staff.
After spending two days hiding out since gunning down the jihadis, he found safety on Sunday and made contact with his daughter Jayde, 29, in Johannesburg.
She told The Times: ‘He saw the commotion with the ambush ahead and got out.
‘There was a government vehicle with an AK47 in it, so he broke in, got it and shot dead two al-Shabaabs [militants].
‘He and two others from the car then ran to hide into the bushes with the gun. They were literally crawling through the bush until they were rescued.’
Philip Mawer, believed to be in his 50s, is understood to have been with around 200 other expatriates at Palma’s Amarula Lodge hotel, from where a convoy of vehicles fled on Friday and ran into militant ambushes, the newspaper reported.
Mawer works for RA International, a Dubai-based firm that provided living quarters and other logistics for expatriate workers.
A statement from the firm said: ‘Our last communication with him was on Friday afternoon after which he was part of a convoy of vehicles that left the Amarula Lodge later that day.’
Evacuees included foreign gas workers, the BBC reported.
A South African woman, Meryl Knox, said that her son Adrian Nel died in the attack.
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 told Reuters.
‘He died on a very violent and unnecessary day,’ Meryl told AFP.
Nel, his younger brother and father had only been in the coastal town since January, leaving Meryl to run a hotel business in the southeastern Kwa-Zulu Natal province of South Africa.
He had been contracted to build workers’ accommodation camps in the town, a gas hub in the province of Cabo Delgado.
On Wednesday, an unknown number of gun-wielding terrorists set upon the town, shooting indiscriminately and forcing nearly 200 workers, including expatriates, to seek refuge at the Amarula Hotel.
The family was holed up in the hotel for two days as the sound of heavy artillery echoed outside the walls.
With communications cut, Nel’s father got hold of a satellite phone and told Meryl of plans to evacuate them from the besieged hotel where food was beginning to run low.
A convoy of cars was ready to take them to safety.
‘As they were leaving, they were ambushed. They shot my son,’ Meryl said.
‘There’s no way to possibly describe what you feel when you get news like that.
‘It’s just devastating, body numbing, mind numbing.’
Six other people were killed during the ambush.
Only seven of the 17-car convoy that had planned to make a dash from the hotel made it to safety.
Some had to turn back, witnesses said.
Meryl has no details of the exact nature of the attack that claimed her son’s life
Her youngest son will return to South Africa on the available first flight while her husband will wait to complete formalities to bring the remains of their son home.
Nel’s body is at a morgue in Pemba, the provincial capital where many survivors have been evacuated to.
Speaking to Sky News, Knox said of her son’s death: ‘When they were driving out unfortunately the insurgents ambushed them and my son was shot,’ she told the news outlet.
‘I learnt on Friday night that people had been killed as they tried to leave the hotel. We didn’t hear who had been killed.
‘It was only on Saturday morning that I got news that unfortunately it was Adrian.’
Thousands of survivors evacuated by boat or plane on Sunday, with witnesses forced to wait on beaches strewn with headless bodies
Battles are continuing between the insurgents linked to Islamic State and government forces
Hundreds of people fleeing the attack are arriving by boat in the port city of Pemba, a diplomat and an aid worker said.
Militants struck Palma, a logistics hub for international gas projects, 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.
Adrian Nel, 40, pictured above, from South Africa was shot dead in a vehicle he was trying to escape in with his father and younger brother
Locals gathered at the port on Sunday for news of family members after the savage attacks
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.
French energy group Total said on Saturday it was calling off a planned resumption of construction at its 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.
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 five-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.