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A desperate escape from Islamist killers

Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images

In March Islamic militants attacked the coastal town of Palma, Mozambique, trapping 200 civilians inside a walled hotel. They were told rescue was on its way. “But it never came,” says Basia Cummings in this Tortoise podcast, Left to Die.

South African construction boss Wesley Nel, his brother Adrian and their father were among those sheltering in the gated Amarula hotel. A $20bn project to extract offshore gas had brought French energy giant Total to the region. But it also brought Al-Shabab, a homegrown terrorist group, waving AK-47s, firing mortars and beheading anyone unlucky enough to get in their way.

The mayor and the hotel’s owner were rescued by helicopter, but the rest were left behind. An air-rescue mission ground to a halt when, allegedly, security contractors refused to give helicopters fuel. The army stayed only to protect Total’s multibillion-dollar compound. Hostages simply weren’t worth the cost of saving. “It’s clear that this was a betrayal on an industrial scale.”

For three “torturous” days the hostages waited out the gunfire. Finally, those trapped formed a ragtag convoy, with 150 people crammed into 17 minibuses and cars. They were immediately ambushed. More than 80 people died in the attack; 10 of Wesley’s staff were beheaded. Adrian managed to get a message to his wife, Janik: “My babes I love love love you and the kids forever. Please let them know that every day if I don’t make it out of here.” He was shot successfully driving others to safety and bled to death in his father’s arms.

Listen to the podcast here.