video thumbnail lionel dyck
Head of mercenary group tells CNN insurgents effectively hold town after attack
04:33 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

A heart monitor beeps in the background when Andre answers his phone, his voice still slightly raspy. He is recovering from a first round of surgery after being shot as he and dozens of others fled a terrorist attack in the northern Mozambique town of Palma.

Andre is in pain but knows how fortunate he is. Dozens of others were killed when Islamist militants attacked Palma 10 days ago.

Many more are still unaccounted for.

Andre is a foreign contractor who doesn’t want his real name disclosed for fear of repercussions. The memories of his three-day ordeal are etched on his mind.

He and his team had been working at the huge complex run by French oil company Total a few miles north of Palma.

It was early afternoon and he had just finished taking a shower at the Amarula Hotel when he first heard gunfire. The hotel is just one of a handful in the area and popular with contractors.

Palma was under attack from three directions by Islamist militants known locally as Shabaab – or the youth.

Shabaab has carried on a brutal campaign in Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado for four years, but until now almost all of its attacks have been against villages, the province’s Christian population and the security forces.

Things started to unravel quickly as other foreigners who lived or were staying in Palma began arriving at the hotel, looking for shelter.

Shortly after, the militants destroyed a local cell tower and communications went down.

Internally displaced people arrive in Pemba by boat on April 1, 2021, from the coasts of Palma.

Desperate calls for help

Inside the hotel, guests and staff did what they could to avoid drawing the insurgents to the hotel. All services, including food preparation, were suspended and electricity was cut off to reduce the noise.

“We spent the entire afternoon trying to get help,” Andre says. Some guests who had satellite phones called anyone they could. But with the local military quickly overrun and no help materializing from the Total complex, dozens of foreigners and Mozambicans began hunkering down – and praying they’d survive the night.

“We spent the night under heavy fire,” he recalls.