The story of children risking their lives, saving families from ISIS atrocities in Mozambique

JOHANNESBURG, KOMPAS.com – ISIS claims responsibility for a bloody siege on a city in the east African country Mozambique last week.

The massacre, which killed dozens of people, forced tens of thousands of people to flee the area.

The attack lasted almost a week, with heavily armed rebels taking control of the northern port city of Palma.

Many foreign nationals working on natural gas projects in the region were killed or arrested.

Correspondent CBS News, Deborah Patta, talks to a South African contractor who dares to run away with her father and brother.

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As Patta reported, the revival is rapid ISIS’s new network surprise everyone.

Last month, the United States (US) officially designated the ISIS group in Mozambique, known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a, as a global terrorist entity.

Immediate sanctions were imposed on its leader, whom the US called Abu Yasir Hassan.

U.S. officials are watching developments in the country with concern, and U.S. special forces are training Mozambican forces in counterterrorism tactics.

But that training only started a few weeks ago.

It’s no wonder that ISIS has stepped up a rebellion in the northeastern region of Cabo Delgado with heinous attack on the city of Palma, the Mozambican army lost to weapons and people. A force incomparable to the militants overwhelmed them.

When the rebels besieged Palma, construction contractor Greg Knox and his two sons Adrian and Wesley Nel sought refuge with colleagues at the Amarula Palma hotel.

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When the battle drew near, with the sound of mortars and gunfire outside, they would hide in the hotel bar.

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“We started shooting,” said Wesley to CBS News.

“They were shooting at us from behind the wall. So we were all lying on the floor and just bowing our heads.”

The uprising in Cabo Delgado started three years ago. But movements have increased dramatically in recent months.

At stake is a US $ 50 billion (Rp. 723.5 trillion) natural gas project being developed by French and US companies. It is only a few miles south of Palma.

The ISIS group’s new, more sophisticated arsenal was featured in full in the attacks in Palma. Shots, grenades and mortars hit the city nonstop for days.

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Hotel raid

Fearing that the militants might storm the hotel, Adrian risked his life to retrieve weapons stored in an abandoned vehicle outside the building.

Wesley continued to watch, and became even more panicked because his brother was taking too long. Adrian finally made it back with the AK-47. But such weapons will be of little use against heavily armed militants.

“There might have been a period of an hour where it calmed down,” recalls Wesley.

“Besides, it was non-stop … There was gunfire right around us. We were surrounded by about 15 rebels who were shooting at us from behind the wall.”

Both knew the wall was not high enough to hold ISIS members for long.

So together with everyone hiding in the hotel, they made constant emergency calls asking for whatever help they could get. But nothing came.

Wesley kept trying to convince his father and brother that they would all survive the ordeal.

“One thing I said to them is: I’m glad I’m here with you, and not anywhere else watching what’s going on on TV. I’m grateful to be with you right now. So, yeah just to take care of each other,” he recalled to CBS News.

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Stay or run away

On the third day trapped at the hotel, their only hope of rescue came. Helicopters circled above the hotel, flown by a private South African security company.

They listened for hours as the plane fought the jihadists and evacuated the victims. But as night fell, the helicopters ran out of fuel and they had to return.

When ISIS militants surround the hotel, those inside face a daunting choice: Stay put and hope to be rescued, or run away.

“We knew on Friday night… We weren’t going to last another night,” Wesley told CBS News. “If they enter… we will be slaughtered.”

They decided to run away. They planned a bid to flee Palma in a convoy of 17 vehicles.

There was only one armored vehicle with room for passengers, so they loaded all the women and children from the hotel into it.

“and we all use unarmed vehicles,” said Wesley. His brother, Adrian, was behind driving one of the vehicles.

“Keep your head down, okay?” Wesley was heard warning his brother in a video recorded on his cell phone. “It will define your life, bro.”

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Brutal chase

Wesley stopped recording as the vehicle exited the hotel gate. They sped along a path flanked by dense vegetation, but within minutes they were attacked.

Within seconds, Adrian was hit by a bullet in his shoulder and leg. But he continued driving as Wesley tried to stop the bleeding.

“I can only scream at him, I love you,” Wesley said, holding back tears.

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Finally, the car stopped. Wesley jumped from the backseat forward and lifted and pushed his brother back. The father carried and held his son’s wounds to stop the blood.

“We went as fast as we could,” Wesley recalled.

“Another vehicle in front of us had swerved too fast and rolled over. I continued to drive, screaming to try to revive him (Adrian) … I kept telling him how much I love him, and that I will take care of his family.”

Finally they reached the agreed point of association, a mine.

“I got out of the car and tried to save my brother again, but he was gone … I took his things and took his ring, bracelet, wallet, and phone,” Wesley recalled.

Also read: ISIS Seized Her City, All Palmas in Mozambique Flee

After covering his brother’s body, he was grateful to have saved all his family’s lives. Then left Adrian in the car and ran into the bushes.

They hid in the bushes for two days.

Finally, much needed help arrived. The ordeal was over, and they flew home to Adrian’s family, taking with them the bodies of their beloved son and brother, and heartbreaking pictures on their cell phones in his final days.

A senior US State Department official told CBS News that ISIS battlefield tactics in Mozambique mirror those used in Iraq and Syria.

Experts fear this may be another land grab by the terror group that, if successful, could give it a new ground for attacks on the West.

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