Official: Guinea soldiers open fire on president

CONAKRY, Guinea – A renegade faction of Guinea’s presidential guard opened fire Thursday on the African country’s leader, a government spokesman said, amid rumors of deep divisions within the army. It was not immediately clear if he was wounded.

President Moussa ‘Dadis’ Camara, who grabbed power in a military-led coup 11 months ago, had left the main military barracks where he lives and works, and had gone to a military camp in downtown Conakry where the shooting occurred, Communication Minister Idrissa Cherif said.

He declined to say if the 45-year-old president had been wounded.

‘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 the background.

The president was shot at by his aide-de-camp Abubakar ‘Toumba’ Diakite, the commander of the presidential guard as well as by Toumba’s men, Cherif said. He said Toumba and his men had fled and the country’s security forces have launched a nationwide manhunt. State TV released a communique confirming that Toumba is being pursued.

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.

At least 157 people were killed and dozens of women were raped by soldiers in broad daylight. Many were kidnapped and driven away in military trucks to private villas where they were drugged and gang raped over the course of 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 said 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.

Cherif said Camara left the main military barracks located in a suburb of the capital, from where he has run the country since seizing power, and headed Thursday afternoon to Camp Koundara, where Toumba’s unit is stationed. It was unclear what caused the altercation, but Cherif said 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,’ Cherif 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.’

The shooting came a day before a high-level U.N. mission was due to depart Conakry. The U.N. is leading an investigation into the Sept. 28 massacre, including looking at the role of top leaders such as Camara and Toumba. 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.