Bamako (AFP), Jul 20 – Malian strongman Colonel Assimi Goita survived an assassination attempt at a mosque in Bamako on Tuesday, in the latest blow to stability in a country reeling from two military coups in less than a year.
An assailant wielding a knife attacked Goita after prayers at the capital’s Grand Mosque for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha, an AFP journalist saw.
Goita, a special forces colonel who was named transitional president in May, was quickly whisked away by security.
The journalist saw blood at the scene, although it was unclear who was wounded.
Goita later appeared on the state broadcaster ORTM, where he said he was doing “very well” after the attack.
“That’s part of being a leader, there are always malcontents,” he said, wearing a blue hat and shiny blue gown.
“There are people who at any time may want to try things to cause instability.”
His office released a statement saying that Goita was “safe and sound” after what was labelled an assassination attempt.
Security had subdued the attacker, and “investigations are ongoing,” the presidency added.
The assailant went for the president as an imam was directing worshippers outside the Great Mosque for a ritual animal sacrifice.
Religious Affairs Minister Mamadou Kone, who was at the mosque, told AFP that a man had “tried to kill the president with a knife” but was apprehended.
The mosque’s director, Latus Toure, said an attacker had lunged at the president but wounded someone else.
Later, a security official who requested anonymity said that two people had been arrested and were now in detention.
Sadio Tomoda, chief of Bamako’s third police district, told AFP the second man arrested was a special forces member armed with a pistol who had not been recognised in the confusion.
He added that the solo attacker was a “teacher”, without giving further details of his identity.
An AFP journalist who wittnesed the attack initially confused an armed security guard with an attacker.
The atmosphere in Bamako was calm on Tuesday after the assault, according to AFP journalists, including in the area surrounding the mosque.
– Political turmoil –
The shocking attack follows months of political turmoil in Mali, which is also battling a jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Goita was sworn into office in June after leading the country’s second coup in less than a year.
He headed a putsch last August that ousted elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita after weeks of mass protests over corruption and the long-running jihadist conflict.
The junta then handed power to a civilian-led transitional government which promised to restore civilian rule in February 2022.
But in late May, Goita, who was vice president under the transitional government, ousted the president, Bah Ndaw, and premier Moctar Ouane, saying they had sought to “sabotage” the handover.
In June, with Goita as interim president, a new government was unveiled, with military figures in key roles.
Facing the wrath of the African Union and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, Goita vowed the government would “uphold all its commitments” and pledged to stage “credible, fair and transparent elections.”
– Fragile country –
The assassination bid is the latest episode in the country’s long history of turbulence.
Mali, a deeply poor state of around 20 million people, has known little stability or democracy since it gained independence from France in 1960.
Its West African neighbours have been viewing the deepening crisis with disquiet, fearing the impact on efforts to stem a jihadist insurgency in the Sahel.
The bloody campaign erupted in the north of Mali in 2012, and has since spread to Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.
France, the mainstay of the anti-jihadist operation, has been especially critical of the military takeover in Mali.
It suspended military cooperation after the second coup and then announced a major drawdown of its 5,100-man Barkhane mission.