Togo soccer team bus attacked in Angola; 6 hurt
AP Sports Writer
LUANDA, Angola (AP) – Gunmen in an area plagued by separatist violence opened fire Friday on a bus carrying Togo’s national soccer team to a tournament in this southwest African country, wounding at least six people including two players, an official said.
Some players said they wanted to pull out of the African Cup of Nations tournament following the violence, but an official in Angola said it would go ahead as planned.
In the West African nation of Togo, soccer federation vice president Gabriel Ameyi said backup goalkeeper Obilale Kossi and central defender Serge Akakpo were among those hurt. The team’s top player, Emmanuel Adebayor, was unharmed, according to his club Manchester City.
“We were machine-gunned like dogs,” Togo player Thomas Dossevi, who plays for French club Nantes, told Radio Monte Carlo. “They were armed to the teeth … We spent 20 minutes underneath the seats of the bus.”
FC Vaslui said on its Web site that the 22-year-old Akakpo, who joined the Romanian club from Auxerre last year, was hit by two bullets and lost a lot of blood but was now out of danger.
Alaixys Romao felt Togo should not go ahead with the tournament.
“If we can boycott it, let’s do it,” Romao told French TV channel Infosport. “It’s just not on for us to be shot at because of a football match. All I can think about is stopping this competition and going home.”
Dossevi agreed: “We don’t want to play this African Cup of Nations,” he told Infosport. “We’re thinking about our teammates – to be hit by bullets when you’ve come to play football is disgusting.”
The 16-team African championship starts Sunday in Angola, with Togo due to play its opening match on Monday against Ghana in Cabinda.
Togo captain Adebayor told the BBC that a lot of players want to leave “because they have seen their death already.”
“Most of the players want to go back to their family. No one can sleep after what they have seen today,” he said. “So we will have a good meeting tonight, everyone will go to their room, they will rest and we will see tomorrow morning. We will make a decision which is good for our life.”
A senior member of the local organizing committee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the tournament would go ahead as planned. He said Didier Drogba and his teammates from Ivory Coast, considered the top African team, had arrived in Cabinda early Friday.
“FIFA and its president Joseph S. Blatter are deeply moved by today’s incidents which affected Togo’s national team, to whom they express their utmost sympathy,” FIFA said in a statement.
Togo’s national team had just crossed the border into Angola when the bus came under fire. Ameyi said the team shown have flown to Angola instead of traveling by road.
“We were surrounded by police buses. Everything looked fine and we came under heavy fire. Everyone scrambled under the seats trying to protect themselves,” Dossevi told Infosport television in France. “It lasted at least a quarter of an hour with the police responding.”
The wounded were taken to a hospital in Cabinda, Angola’s main oil-producing region that has been plagued by unrest. Human rights groups have accused the military of atrocities and claim government officials have embezzled millions of dollars in oil revenue. The government has denied the charges.
Portugal’s state-run Lusa news agency said the region’s main separatist group, FLEC, claimed it had carried out the attack in a communication sent to the agency.
Angola has been struggling to climb back from decades of violence, and its government was clearly banking on the tournament as a chance to show the world it was on the way to recovery. A building boom fueled by oil wealth has included new stadiums in Cabinda and three other cities for the tournament.
The simmering violence in Cabinda is separate from a larger civil war that broke out after independence from Portugal in 1975. An anti-colonial war had begun in the southern African country in the 1960s. Major fighting ended in 2002.
Claude Leroy, a former Cameroon and Ghana coach, said African soccer authorities now had to decide whether to play the tournament.
“You have to ask the question. Football’s just a game,” Leroy told RMC. “This is really serious and means that safety cannot be guaranteed. These local hotspots can be really dangerous. The CAF is going to have to take a decision on this crazy shooting.”
Before leaving for the tournament, Adebayor was asked by British journalists whether he had any reservations about playing in the politically unstable Cabinda region of Angola.
“We were born in Africa so we know what it’s about. Some people might be afraid which is normal, I can understand that. But I’m going back to Africa, to one of the countries on my continent, and I’m prepared for Cabinda. I will enjoy myself,” the former Arsenal forward said.
English Premier League club Portsmouth, which has four players in Angola, said it was considering withdrawing its players.
“We have asked the (English) Football Association to ask FIFA how safe it is and to guarantee the safety of our players,” Portsmouth spokesman Gary Double told The Associated Press. “Our players’ safety is paramount, and if that can’t be guaranteed the players should be sent home.”
It was the second major gun attack on a sports team in less than a year. Several players were injured and six policemen were killed when gunmen opened fire on the Sri Lankan cricket team’s bus in Lahore, Pakistan, in March 2009.
The violence also comes five months before the World Cup in South Africa, the first to be held on the continent. The biggest concern leading to that 32-nation tournament has been the security situation in South Africa, a country with one of the world’s highest crime rates.
Togo, which played at the 2006 World Cup, did not qualify for this year’s tournament in South Africa.
Associated Press Writers Ebow Godwin in Lome, Togo, and Bruce Mutsvairo in Johannesburg contributed to this report.