A renegade faction of Guinea's presidential guard opened fire on the African country's leader Thursday, slightly wounding him amid rumors of deep divisions within the army nearly three months after a military-led massacre of protesters at a peaceful rally.
President Moussa "Dadis" Camara was shot at by his military aide, who heads the presidential guard, Communications Minister Idrissa Cherif. A statement read on state TV said the 45-year-old president had been slightly wounded but that his life was not in danger.
"The president of the republic is still the president of the republic and he is in good health," Cherif said as military helicopters and sporadic shooting could be heard in downtown Conakry.
Cherif said Camara had left the country's main military barracks from where he has been running the country since seizing power in a military-led coup 11 months ago. He headed downtown to a military camp housing hundreds of men under the control of Abubakar "Toumba" Diakite, the president's aide-de-camp. The shooting occurred inside the camp.
Deep rifts in the military
The incident underscores the deep rifts inside the military clique that grabbed control of the nation of 10 million on Africa's western coast just 11 months ago. Camara had initially promised to quickly organize elections, but then reversed course and began hinting that he planned to run for office, prompting a massive protest Sept. 28.
Toumba is accused of having led the presidential guard that opened fire on the peaceful demonstrators that had gathered inside the capital's national stadium. At least 157 people were killed and dozens of women were raped by the red beret-wearing presidential guard who also assaulted them with bayonets, rifle butts and with pieces of wood. At least 20 women were kidnapped and driven away in military trucks to private villas where they were drugged and videotaped while they were being gang raped over several days, according to three survivors as well as several human rights groups.
The massacre led the European Union and the African Union to impose sanctions on Guinea, including on top members of the junta, who are now the subject of a travel ban. Sources inside the military say that it deeply aggravated divisions that were already present and has led to the clique fracturing further. Members of the junta, including Toumba, are believed to lead private armies that are faithful only to them.
A U.N. mission was in Conakry this week investigating the massacre and interviewed top military commanders in order to try to understand how the order to kill protesters was given. Toumba, as well as Camara and several others, may face charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
Opposition leaders blamed
The government has denied all wrongdoing and blamed opposition leaders for going ahead with the banned protest. Earlier on Thursday, one of Camara's top commanders, Moussa "Tiegboro" Camara, testified before a national commission investigating the killings and said that he saw no bodies inside the stadium and that footage captured on cell phones of women being raped by the presidential guard are "montages."
Human rights groups and country experts believe that Camara most likely ordered the killings, but did not carry them out, leaving that to trusted commanders like Toumba and Tiegboro. They say that with the U.N. now investigating, it's possible that they will turn on each other. Both Toumba and Tiegboro were seen by numerous witnesses at the stadium ordering the attacks, but some witnesses said that Tiegboro showed a degree of restraint, at one point throwing a piece of cloth to a woman who had been stripped naked by men about to rape her, according to her account to the AP.
By contrast, witnesses were unanimous in saying that Toumba was recklessly violent — even sadistic — in his attack. Analysts say that if the junta is to split, the easiest way is for them to hand over Toumba to authorities and in return, arguing for amnesty for Camara, Tiegboro and others.
'Your intention is to kill him'
Cherif said that it was clear that Toumba's intention was to kill the leader. "When you pull a gun on someone, is it your intention to scare him? No. Your intention is to kill him," he said.
He declined to say whether the shot grazed or wounded Camara, or whether anyone else in his entourage was hurt. He repeated that he is "doing well" and that "the situation is under control."
In the early evening, residents and tourists near Camp Koundara said they heard repeated volleys of shots. The camp is also close to the prime minister's office, who was out at the time but received a call from his aide telling him to avoid returning. "I was told to go home," said Prime Minister Kabine Komara, who was reached on his cell phone. "I am trying to reach the head of the army to find out what is going on," he said.
The shooting came a day before the U.N. mission is due to depart Conakry. Guineans have been shocked that not a single soldier has so far been arrested and charged. Country experts have argued that Camara, who is not believed to have been at the stadium during the massacre, did not have the power to arrest Toumba, as it could have prompted him to lead a countercoup.
In a recently released report, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said that Toumba was clearly aware of the rapes being committed by men under his control and yet did nothing to stop them. They cite an opposition leader who described how he was led away by Toumba and passed women in agony.