British SAS troops arrive in Mozambique to hunt for missing Briton

British SAS troops arrive in Mozambique to lead hunt for missing British hotel manager not seen since jihadis overran the town where he worked

  • Philip Mawer from Somerset is among dozens of expats missing after the attack 
  • Three members of the SAS have been deployed to join the search for him 
  • He has not been seen or heard of since gunmen ambushed a vehicle last Friday  
  • Dozens of people have been killed in a five-day assault on Palma, Mozambique   

Three members of the Special Air Service (SAS) have joined the search for a British man missing after a terror attack in Mozambique. 

The officers were deployed to the country on Monday night to help search for Briton Philip Mawer, who has not been heard from since attempting to flee the town of Palma last week.  

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement issued by its Amaq news agency on Monday alongside a photo of militants from the group celebrating the capture of the town of Palma. 

Mawer, a contractor from Somerset, has not been seen or heard from since gunmen ambushed a convoy of vehicles fleeing a hotel on Friday. 

The 50-year-old was working for RA International, a Dubai-based firm that provides living quarters and other logistics for expatriate workers. 

The SAS officers were deployed from a base for bush warfare training in Nairobi, The Times reported. 

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

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

Al-Shabab, an ISIS-affiliated jihadi group, has made gains in Cabo Delgado, the northeast of Mozambique, and seized the strategic port of Mocimboa da Praia in August before the latest attack in Palma

His friend Peter Zweemer told The Sun that the French oil giant Total, whose employees Mawer was reportedly helping to build a camp for left its workers to be ‘slaughtered’.

‘As far as I know and from eye witness accounts, unfortunately, we have to assume Phil got killed Friday.

‘There is still no access into Palma to recoup bodies or asses damages and missing people do appear under the most amazing circumstances but I’m afraid the news about Phil is not encouraging.

‘It’s a shambles and they allowed these contractors to be slaughtered.’ 

It comes after it emerged that a flotilla of small boats launched a Dunkirk-like rescue of thousands of survivors of the attack. 

The boats transported people from Palma, which was stormed by hundreds of gunmen last week, to the town of Pemba, 150 miles further down the Mozambican coast. 

Brendon Bekker, the Zimbabwean director of KEA projects, a construction firm working locally, was among those who were evacuated on the boats. He told how one of his colleagues was fatally shot from the shore after boarding one of the vessels. 

‘When the insurgents first attacked Palma, they came in from about three different directions,’ he told the Daily Telegraph, adding that ‘there was people all over the different beaches.’ 

Meanwhile efforts were ongoing to locate the thousands of people still remaining in the town, with reports that militants were still in control despite claims from Mozambican security forces that it had been retaken. 

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack on Monday and announced they had seized the coastal town after days of fighting, the terrorist group said in a statement on its Telegram channels. 

An ex-police officer shot dead two militants after breaking into a government vehicle and grabbing an AK-47 as he escaped an ISIS massacre in Mozambique.

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

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. 

Seven people, including a British contractor, were killed as they fled the Amarula Lodge hotel compound on Friday after two days of gunfire near the site of a £14billion major gas project. 

Amarula Lodge was considered an oasis of safety by the expatriate workers who were staying in the region, with a well-guarded compound that was deemed secure from attack, The Daily Telegraph reported.

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. 

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.

ISIS 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 now strongly considered to be an arm of ISIS, which was confirmed by US officials in December.  

Coordinator for counter-terrorism 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 helps fund its Mozambican counterparts.

Attacks have become increasingly sophisticated, using new and advanced weapons which indicate the group’s 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 ISCAP. 

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.

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