LUANDA, January 9 – Gunmen shot at buses carrying Togo's football team to the African Nations Cup in Angola on Friday, leaving one dead and nine wounded, but organisers insisted the tournament would go ahead.
Two players were among the injured, while a driver was killed as bullets sprayed at the team’s vehicles as they crossed into Angola’s restive Cabinda province from Congo-Brazzaville, according to a Togo official.
Many dived under their seats when the gunfire started. Squad member Thomas Dossevi said the team — one of the strongest in African football — had been "fired on like dogs".
Two players — goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale and defender Serge Akakpo — were among the wounded, Dossevi told AFP.
"The assailants were hooded and armed to the teeth. We stayed under the seats for 20 minutes. It was horrible."
Two English Premiership players — Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor and Aston Villa midfielder Moustapha Salifou — emerged unharmed from the attack, their clubs said.
Angola’s government denounced the attack by the separatist Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), and in a statement "reiterated its total commitment to guaranteeing everyone’s security".
FLEC, embroiled in a decades-long separatist struggle, said the team’s military escorts were the intended target, saying one person had been killed and three seriously injured.
"This operation is only the start of a series of targeted actions that will continue in all the territory of Cabinda," it said in a statement on Portugal’s Lusa news agency.
FLEC signed a peace deal with Angola’s government in 2006, but in recent months has claimed a spate of attacks on the military and foreign oil and construction workers in the province.
Togo’s football federation said members of the team’s sporting, administrative and medical staff were injured. All were being treated in a hospital in Cabinda city.
Alaixys Romao, a Togolese player for the French top flight side Grenoble, said the team was in shock and did not want to take part in the tournament.
"If it is possible, there should be a boycott of the tournament. Why not cancel all the matches. We just want to go back home," Romao told France’s Infosport television.
His concerns about security echoed across the continent, but organisers said the games would go on.
"Our great concern is for the players, but the championship goes ahead," said Souleymane Habuba, spokesman for the Confederation of African Football.
He said the group’s vice president had set off for Cabinda to find out first hand what had occurred, but questioned why Togo had elected to travel by road rather than flying.
"CAF’s regulations are clear: teams are required to fly rather than travel by bus," he said.
Togo, one of Africa’s top sides and who appeared in the last World Cup in Germany, were scheduled to start their campaign against Ghana on Monday in Cabinda.
The other teams in their group are Burkina Faso and the star-studded Ivory Coast squad which includes Chelsea striker Didier Drogba and Barcelona midfielder Yaya Toure.
Despite long-running security concerns, oil-rich Cabinda is to host seven Nations Cup matches this month.
Angola as a whole is only just emerging from a 27-year civil war which erupted shortly after it received independence from Portugal and finally ended in 2002.