Mozambique Palma terror attack: 'I can't go back'

The terror waged in Palma put pressure on Mozambique to accept the deployment of foreign troops

The town of Palma in northern Mozambique was the scene of a horrific attack by Islamist militants a year ago, which left dozens of people dead, forced thousands to flee their homes and put a massive nearby gas project on hold. BBC Africa correspondent Catherine Byaruhanga has been speaking to some of those who survived the assault to see what has changed.

Fear still pervades Palma.

Before the well co-ordinated assault began, the coastal town was packed and bustling - full of those who had come to find work in the area's burgeoning gas industry.

It was also full of thousands of people who had fled violence in other areas of Cabo Delgado, the mainly Muslim province where an Islamist insurgency began in 2017.

The militants are known locally as al-Shabab. They have no link to the Somali group of that name, but have since pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group.

Today, French energy giant Total's multi-billion dollar gas project remains closed.

Some of those who have begun to return home are too afraid to talk to the BBC over the phone, even though the militants have been expelled.

Antònio, one of the contractors who had gone to the town to work in the gas industry, is not hopeful about the future.

Private security firm Dyck Advisory Group, contracted by the military, evacuated many people by helicopter

Despite the deployment of regional troops to fight al-Shabab, the 36-year-old, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, says he can't see himself returning.

"I don't think myself that I can go back there," he told me over Zoom from his home in southern Mozambique, where he is still struggling to find a job.

He remains traumatised by the events that, four days into the siege that began on 24 March, saw the militants break through the gate of his work compound where he, his brother and other contractors - some from Zimbabwe and South Africa - were hiding in pre-fabricated buildings.

"I heard the gun shooting. [Shouts of] 'Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!' And then when I opened my curtains, I saw one guy standing by the main gate. They were wearing green clothes with a red cloth on their head."

The fighters could not open the door to his room but 16 men, including his brother and three cousins who had locked themselves into a safe room, were discovered.

"They started screaming: 'Oh we found people, we found people, come, come!'" he remembers.

Nine militants then marched the men out into the bush and beheaded them.

Antònio, who was eventually rescued by helicopter from the compound by private security firm Dyck Advisory Group, says the bodies of his brother and cousins have never been found or returned to the family.

"Al-Shabab are ghosts, there is no stopping them," he says.

This sentiment sums up the difficult nature of tackling militants who are able to melt into the local community and countryside.

Mozambique Palma terror attack: 'I can't go back' Mozambique Palma terror attack: 'I can't go back' Reviewed by Africa Info on Sunday, April 10, 2022 Rating: 5

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