Durban mom tells how her son tried to save others in the horror attacks in Palma, Mozambique
Durban – Adrian Nel, the South African who was killed in the northern Mozambique Islamic State (IS) raid last weekend, has been hailed as a hero as he continued driving in an effort to save others despite having been shot.
He, his father Greg and brother Wesley were fleeing with others from the Amarula Palma Hotel on Friday last week after being ambushed by the insurgents.
“Adrian was a hero,” his mother, Meryl Knox, said yesterday.
“Apparently Adrian ran out of a safe place to retrieve an AK-47 that had been left behind. He then brought it back so that they at least had some sort of weapon with them, but apparently it (the weapon) didn’t work.
“After he was shot, he continued to drive them to safety, to get away from the ambush until he couldn’t drive further. My husband tried to do everything to stop Adrian bleeding and ended up spending the night with him in the bush.
“Luckily DAG (Dyck Advisory Group) choppers came in the morning. The chopper guys went to retrieve the body. They were amazing,” said Knox.
She said she understood that DAG, private military contractors, were the only people there, although there had been “lots of people behind the scenes, trying,” said Knox yesterday.
Yesterday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said SANDF troops had been sent to the northern province of Cabo Delgado to help secure the towns of Palma and Pemba.
Knox said Greg and Wesley were too traumatised to speak to the media, becoming even more distressed by a saga at King Shaka International Airport where they had arrived on Wednesday aboard the same aircraft carrying Nel’s body. Authorities retrieved the body for further investigation relating to terrorism.
She said her son, who would have turned 41 on April 1, would have wished to have a get together of friends on a beach to celebrate his life rather than a formal event. This will be held once his Canadian wife’s parents are able to reach South Africa.
Meanwhile, Adrian’s brother, Wesley, is organising a crowdfunding campaign with Back-a-Buddy to raise funds to help Nel’s widow and three children.
Knox stressed that the world must not forget about what is happening in northern Mozambique.
On Wednesday last week hundreds of insurgents stormed the town of Palma in Cabo Delgado, attacking shops and banks, leaving decapitated bodies and devastation in the streets. About 200 people took shelter in the hotel. Palma is the closest town to the site of French oil and gas giant Total and other international companies which had invested billions to extract liquified natural gas offshore in what is believed to be among the world’s largest natural gas finds.
Many foreign expat workers providing services to or working for Total were based in Palma. Since the attack, Total has evacuated workers and suspended operations. Total had been restarting operations after a previous suspension in late December 2020 after a number of jihadist raids near its compound.
On Friday evening last week, the insurgents were outside the hotel and those trapped inside either had to make a desperate bid to escape by forming a convoy of vehicles or risk waiting until the morning for help. After being alerted by her husband, a frantic Knox went online to reveal the chaos that was unfolding in Palma, with her story going global, including being aired on many of the world’s top news channels.
On Thursday, Department of International Relations (Dirco) spokesperson Clayson Monyela confirmed that all 44 reported South Africans had been found.
“We were made aware of and have accounted for 44 South Africans. The embassy has said that there could be other South Africans missing since the attack, but we have had no further reports or requests from families reporting someone missing. However we will continue to track and trace,” said Monyela, adding that the government was working with Mozambican authorities and providing consular services where necessary.
He said the 44 traced South Africans had either returned home or had been taken to safer regions in Mozambique.
On Monday IS claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out by the Islamic State Central Africa Province, according to the SITE extremist monitoring group.
Seven people were killed during the hotel siege, according to spokesperson for the Mozambique defence department Omar Saranga.
AFP reported yesterday that survivors from the attack were still streaming into Pemba on Thursday. The report said dozens were killed during the co-ordinated attack, although it is believed thousands remain stranded.
“The jihadists reportedly beheaded residents and ransacked buildings in a rampage that forced thousands to seek safety in surrounding forests. The attack is seen as the biggest escalation of the Islamist insurgency ravaging Cabo Delgado province since 2017,” said the AFP report.
The UN said that nearly half of the 8 166 registered displaced people were children, many unaccompanied and injured.
“Many more people remain displaced inside of Palma, including thousands who have reportedly gathered near the Afungi complex, the site of the gas exploration project, where the security situation remains volatile,” said the UN, adding that many were still fleeing on foot or by boat.
Doctors Without Borders said some of the displaced were suffering from life-threatening injuries.
On Wednesday Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi said the attack “was not the biggest” and in Afungi, army commander Chongo Vidigal said the gas project remained “protected”.
This week the African Union (AU) called for urgent and co-ordinated international action to jointly address the “urgent threat to regional and continental peace and security”.
Trouble has been brewing in Cabo Delgado since 2017 when rebel forces started violent attacks. In August 2020, insurgents seized the port of Mocimboa da Praia, about 60km south of Palma. Battles continued for a week and the rebels seized control of the town and the port. They still retain control.
Total did not respond to a request for comment.
The Independent on Saturday