Former Guinean dictator Moussa Dadis Camara was recaptured and returned to prison on Saturday, hours after an apparent escape led by a heavily armed commando, the army and his lawyer said.
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At least two other former officials tried alongside Camara for the 2009 massacre during his presidency were taken during the previous operation which triggered heavy shooting in the capital Conakrysaid a minister and lawyers.
“Captain Moussa Dadis Camara was found safe and sound and taken back to prison,” an army spokesperson told AFP, without specifying the circumstances of his capture.
One of Camara’s lawyers, Jocamey Haba, told AFP that his client was back behind bars.
Justice Minister Alphonse Charles Wright said earlier that around 0500 GMT, “heavily armed men” burst into the prison and “managed to leave with four (prisoners) … including Captain Moussa Dadis Camara.”
He said the borders had been closed.
It was unclear whether Camara escaped of his own free will.
The army described the operation as an attempt to “sabotage” government reforms and vowed its “unwavering commitment” to the current military authorities.
A judicial source, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated that the masked and heavily armed soldiers who arrived at Conakry’s central prison declared that they “had come to liberate” Camara.
Inside, the group headed toward his cell, appearing to already know his location, the source said.
Haba told AFP he believed his client had been “kidnapped” and that his life was “in danger”.
“He has confidence in the justice of his country, which is why he will never try to escape,” he added, referring to the ongoing trial against Camara.
Wright also said that Colonel Moussa Tiegboro Camara – another of the men released from prison – had since been “recaptured”.
Tiegboro Camara’s lawyer said he escaped from those he described as his “captors.”
The city is “sealed”
Several Guinean news sites quickly reported that Saturday’s events did not constitute a new putsch, but that a heavily armed commando had attacked the central prison.
Gunshots were heard before dawn in Kaloum, a central neighborhood that houses the presidency, several top government and administrative offices, the military headquarters and the main prison.
A witness, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there had been gunfire in the central district.
“The city center has been cordoned off since dawn, we can neither enter nor exit,” added a trader, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
“I wanted to go to the port area where I work but I was prevented from leaving (Kaloum), where armored vehicles were deployed.”
An airport source said no flights took off from Conakry International Airport on Saturday morning as air traffic personnel were unable to travel to the airport from Kaloum, where they often spend the night.
Guinea, a West African country of about 14 million people, has been ruled by a junta since Doumbouya stormed the presidential palace with soldiers and overthrew civilian President Alpha Condé in September 2021.
“Compass” of justice
Dadis Camara has been detained since his trial in September 2022.
He and a dozen other former military and government officials are accused of 2009 massacre carried out by security forces loyal to the head of the junta at the time.
The killing of 156 people and the rape of at least 109 women began during a political rally at a Conakry stadium on September 28, 2009 and continued in the days that followed, according to a UN-mandated investigation .
Camara — himself who came to power in a coup in December 2008 — and his co-defendants are indicted with murder, sexual violence, torture, kidnapping and confinement.
They face life in prison if found guilty.
This trial is unprecedented in a country ruled for decades by authoritarian regimes, where the population had become accustomed to the impunity of the security forces, according to the international commission of inquiry into the massacre.
It opened its doors last September under the leadership of Doumbouya, who promised to rebuild the Guinean state and make justice his “compass”.
Under international pressure, Doumbouya pledged to hand over power to elected civilians within two years from January 2023.
The Forces Vives de Guinée, a collective of opposition parties and organizations, have since denounced unfulfilled commitments and an authoritarian drift, calling the junta an “emerging dictatorship”.