Asimi Goita, the Malian Special Forces colonel and interim president, who led two coups in less than a year, was the target of a knife-wielding assailant. The attack took place after Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) prayers at the Grand Mosque in Mali’s capital, Bamako. His office said that Colonel Goita was not hurt in the attack.
Security officials are conducting an investigation into the incident. No motive has been given for the attack yet.
Security officials at the scene overpowered and arrested two potential suspects. In video footage obtained by Reuters, the suspects can be seen being thrown into the back of a military pickup truck. Goita, dressed in a blue robe, can be seen surrounded by his security detail. He appears unhurt.
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Al Jazeera quoted one witness as saying that the colonel was wounded in the arm but that hasn’t been confirmed by the government.
“The attacker was immediately overpowered by security. Investigations are ongoing,” the president’s office wrote on Twitter after the incident. One AFP journalist reported to have seen blood on the scene but it wasn’t clear exactly whose blood it was.
Prime Minister Choguel Maiga, who was seated near Goita in the mosque, told state television that a man wielding a knife approached the interim president at the end of the prayer and attempted to stab him.
“As you know the interim president is an officer of the special forces, and I believe his instincts helped prevent the aggressor from reaching his objective,” Maiga said.
Shortly after the attack, Goita said in a televised press conference on state television channel ORTM that he was “doing very well.”
“Everything is fine. That’s part of being a leader, there are always malcontents,” Goita said. “There are people who at any time may want to try things to cause instability.”
According to media reports, the attack occurred when the imam was leading out worshippers for an animal sacrifice. That’s when an attacker, disguised as an usher, lunged at Colonel Goita, attempting to stab him in the neck.
Investigators are trying to learn whether the attacker is aligned with the insurgent groups that are trying to overthrow the government, is a disgruntled military member, or just an angry civilian.
A Tough Year for Mali
Goita, 38, led the military coup that ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August of last year after instability grew following eight years of insurgency. Although the reaction of the population to the coup was initially celebratory, the corruption and lack of governance continued.
The coup leaders formed an interim government and promised fair elections within 18 months. Goita was appointed as vice president under President Bah N’Daw. But after the interim government shook up the cabinet and cut out many of the military officers from their appointed positions, Goita led another coup arresting N’Daw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, and Minister of Defense Souleymane Doucouré.
Goita announced that N’daw and Ouane were stripped of their powers because they attempted to “sabotage the transition” and promised that new elections would be held in 2022. He then assumed the duties of the interim president.
The Islamist insurgency, which was started by Taureg separatists in 2012, was quickly taken over by terrorists from both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. It has gained strength, spreading from Mali to the neighboring Sahel countries.