A mass grave containing the decapitated bodies of at least 12 people has been discovered near a hotel used by foreigners that was overrun by Islamic State militants in Mozambique.
Palma, a coastal town in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province, was attacked by militants wielding machetes, assault rifles and heavy weapons on March 24.
The 12 bodies were found under a large mango tree near the entrance of the Amarula Hotel, an establishment favoured by foreign contractors working on a nearby natural gas project run by the French oil giant Total.
“They were tied up and beheaded here,” Pedro da Silva, a police commander, said in footage broadcast by Mozambique’s TVM channel on Wednesday.
“It’s hard to know their nationalities, but we know that Aamaroula is a hotel that often hosts foreigners, and when the insurgents came most foreigners thought Amarula was the safest place to go, so they all came here.”
“There was security but the insurgents were stronger so they managed to break in and take 12 foreigners, tie their hands behind their backs and decapitated them all.”
Mr da Silva said he believed the victims were foreigners because they were white, but that he could not speculate on their nationalities. Mozambique has citizens of all colours including whites.
However, a source familiar with the operation in Pemba, the provincial capital of Cabo Delgado, told the Telegraph that the victims were black. The source said the bodies were so decomposed they would be difficult to identify.
The hotel is opposite a neighbourhood called Wentworth. Most of those living in the area are understood to be Mozambicans, but there were also a few Italians and Portuguese living in the town.
Two foreigners, a South African called Adrian Nel and British contractor Philip Mawer, have been confirmed killed during the attack. As far as can be ascertained no other foreign citizens have been reported unaccounted for.
Mozambique's growing insurgency
Mozambique’s growing insurgency
Brigadier Vidigal Chongo, spokesperson for the Northern Operational Theatre, said the military had requested a forensics team to help identify the victims.
Palma has seen an influx of Mozambican and foreign workers since Total bought into a $20 billion liquified natural gas project two years ago. The project is one of the several offshore gas projects in Cabo Delgado worth a total of $60 billion.
An Islamist insurgency erupted in Cabo Delgado in 2017. It is led by a group known locally as al-Shabab, which is believed to be made up mostly of local fighters but also includes Tanzanian radicals and a handful of South Africans.
The assault on Palma was one of their bloodiest to date, with insurgents beheading civilians in the streets and systematically destroying key infrastructure during a week-long rampage.
The total number of casualties has not been established.
Nel and Mawer were killed when a convoy of vehicles that tried to break out of the siege of the hotel two days after the insurgents took over the town came under fire.
Their bodies were recovered last week by South African mercenaries working for the Dyck Advisory Group, a small private security firm hired by the Mozambican government to fight the insurgents. DAG completed its year-long contract and returned to South Africa last weekend.
Leaders from the Southern African Development Community, a six country regional bloc, met in the Mozambican capital of Maputo for an urgent summit to discuss the crisis in Cabo Delgado on Thursday.
The six leaders said in a communique that they had agreed to an “immediate technical deployment” to assist Mozambique, but stopped short of defining the nature of that assistance.
Mozambique’s government has resisted calls for deployment of foreign forces in Cabo Delgado, fearing an erosion of sovereignty.