Bamako, Mali: Mali’s interim president Colonel Assimi Goita was “safe and sound”, his office said, after an assassination attempt by two men, one wielding a knife, during prayers at a mosque in Bamako on Tuesday.
An AFP journalist who witnessed the attack said the assailants lunged at Goita, who was quickly whisked away by security.
The journalist also said he saw blood at the scene, though it was not clear who had been wounded.
An official in the president’s office later said Goita was “safe and sound”, after what was labeled an assassination attempt.
Goita arrived at the military camp of Kati, outside the capital, “where security has been reinforced”, the official added.
Security had subdued one attacker, and “investigations are ongoing”, the presidency added in a statement.
The incident occurred after prayers for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha in the great mosque of Bamako.
Assailants went for the president as an imam was directing worshippers outside the 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.
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 power in June, after leading the country’s second coup in less than a year.
The colonel had already led a putsch last August when he and other army officers ousted elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita after weeks of mass protests over corruption and the long-running jihadist conflict.
The second coup in nine months sparked diplomatic uproar, prompting the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to suspend Mali, calling for the appointment of a civilian prime minister.
France, which has thousands of troops stationed in the war-torn country, also suspended military cooperation with Mali.
The former colonial power followed by announcing that it would wind down its 5,100-strong Barkhane force that has battled jihadists in the Sahel since 2013.
The military junta handed power to a civilian-led transitional government, which promised to restore civilian rule in February 2022.
In June it unveiled its new government, appointing military figures in key roles.
Goita vowed at the time that the government would “uphold all its commitments”, pledging to stage “credible, fair and transparent elections”.
A large majority of the 15-nation UN’s Security Council later called for free and fair elections to go ahead in the country without the participation of its current leaders.
Mali also faces unrest outside the political arena.
It has been struggling to contain a jihadist insurgency that first emerged in the north of the country 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.
The conflict has also been mirrored by political instability in the capital.
Five things to know about Mali
Five things to know about Mali
A knife attack Tuesday on Mali’s interim president, Assimi Goita, marks the latest blow to stability in one of Africa’s poorest and most volatile nations.
Goita headed a junta that took power last August, and in May sacked the transitional government that had been named to steer the country back to civilian rule.
Here is a fact file:
The biggest country in West Africa, modern Mali boasts desert cities of exotic legend and a long imperial history.
The mainly arid nation, partly irrigated by the Niger River, became the hub of the Ghana empire for more than five centuries from around 700 AD while Islam spread into the region.
In the north, where Mali juts deep into the Sahara, the city of Timbuktu grew into a center of glittering scholarship and cultural exchange just as it became an important post for traders in gold, salt, and slaves.
Mansa Musa, Mali’s 14th-century emperor, is regarded as the richest man who ever lived.
Mali is the world’s fourth-largest exporter of gold and a major producer of cashew nuts, but ranks as one of the world’s poorest countries, listed 184th out of 189 by the UN.
More than 40 percent of its population of close to 20 million live in extreme poverty.
The double blow of last year’s coup and the pandemic shrank growth to two percent from 5.1 percent in 2019.
The World Bank warns that both its rapid population growth and climate change threaten agriculture and food security.
The fall in cotton production and the poor performance of the agricultural sector has also contributed to worsening poverty.
In 2012, ethnic Tuaregs in northern Mali rose up and were joined by the Islamic extremists of the Ansar Dine group.
Swathes of the country fell to jihadists, including the three main northern towns of Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu, sparking global concern for the fate of historical monuments and manuscripts.
In 2013, France intervened militarily to help recapture the north and a large UN peacekeeping force was deployed.
But the jihadist campaign spread to central Mali and from there to Niger and Burkina Faso. Thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.
In 2017, five French-backed nations agreed to an anti-jihadist force, the G5 Sahel, bringing together Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger as well as Mali.
In June, France announced an overhaul of its military mission in the Sahel. Its 5,100-man Operation Barkhane will be wound up in the first quarter of 2022.
The former French colony has a long record of chronic instability.
After gaining independence in 1960, Mali was led by Modibo Keita for eight years before he was ousted in a military coup by Moussa Traore, who was in turn toppled in 1991.
The following year Alpha Oumar Konare became Mali’s first democratically elected president.
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, known as “IBK”, came to power in 2013 and was re-elected five years later.
He was ousted by young army officers on August 18, 2020 after weeks of protests over perceived government corruption and his handling of the insurgency.
After the 15-nation West Africa bloc ECOWAS threatened sanctions, the junta handed power to a caretaker government that pledged to reform the constitution and stage elections within 18 months.
But in May, Goita, who was vice president under the transitional government, said the pair had been stripped of their duties for seeking to “sabotage” the handover.
He was then named transitional president and appointed Choguel Maiga, a veteran politician, as prime minister.