Tragedy struck last night in Angola, as the bus carrying Togo’s national soccer delegation came under attack by a rebel group known as FLEC.
Two members of Togo’s national soccer delegation died on Saturday following an ambush on the team bus as it traveled to the African Nations Cup in Angola, and their team appeared set to quit the tournament.
Friday’s attack, in which the driver was also killed and seven others were injured, took place in the province of Cabinda. It was claimed by the FLEC, a rebel group that has been fighting for secession sporadically for decades.
Togolese officials named the dead men as media officer Stanislas Ocloo and assistant coach Amalete Abalo, and said reserve goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale had been evacuated to Johannesburg for medical treatment.
Togolese soccer administrators met the players, and Togo’s presidency said the federation would decide whether to quit the three-week tournament after returning to the capital Lome.
But Togo’s captain and star striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who escaped the attack unharmed, was already flying home, his English club Manchester City said.
The attack, claimed by separatist rebels, came five months before South Africa hosts the World Cup, the first African nation to hold the world’s biggest single sport event.
Rich Mkhondo, chief spokesman for the World Cup organizing committee, said the attack had no relevance to the World Cup.
“We remain confident that everyone coming to South Africa will have a safe and secure experience in our country,” he said.
Virgilio Santos, an official with the African Nations Cup local organizing committee COCAN, said teams had been told explicitly not to travel to the tournament by road.
“We asked that all delegations inform us when they would arrive and provide the passport number of their players,” he told the sports weekly A Bola.
“Togo was the only team not to respond and did not inform COCAN it was coming by bus … The rules are clear: No team should travel by bus. I don’t know what led them to do this.”
Adebayor said the attack would hurt Africa as a whole.
“We keep repeating (that) — Africa, we have to change our image if we want to be respected — and unfortunately that is not happening,” he told the BBC World Service.
Organizers said on Friday the tournament, which will feature some of the world’s most valuable players, would start as planned on Sunday.
But Togo appeared unlikely to take part.
“No one (in the team) wants to play,” midfielder Moustapha Salifou was quoted as saying by his English club, Aston Villa.
“We just want to go home … We can’t play in these circumstances and we want to leave for home today.”
The team bus, traveling from its training ground in the Congo Republic, had just entered Cabinda, geographically cut off from the rest of Angola, when it came under fire.
“I know I am really lucky,” Salifou said. “A defender who was sat in front of me took two shots in the back …
“Our security people saved us … They were in two separate cars, about 10 of them in total, and they returned fire. The shooting lasted for half an hour and I could hear the bullets whistling past me. It was like a movie.”
Cabinda, the scene of FLEC attacks even after Angola’s 27-year civil war ended in 2002, provides half the oil output of Angola, which rivals Nigeria as Africa’s biggest producer.
Former Togo coach Otto Pfister said the assault would cast a shadow over the World Cup.
“This is a real blow for Africa. It will obviously be linked directly with the World Cup now,” he told the German sports news agency SID. “And it will give the critics a boost.”
South Africa has spent at least 13 billion rand ($1.7 billion) on new stadiums and infrastructure for the World Cup.
South African President Jacob Zuma will attend Sunday’s opening ceremony despite the attack, his spokesman said.
African champions Egypt and Nigeria both demanded increased security for their teams.
But there was no official suggestion that matches would be pulled from Cabinda, wedged between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo and due to host seven matches.
The first games in Cabinda are due to be played on Monday, with Togo taking on Ghana and Ivory Coast facing Burkina Faso.
Ivory Coast general manager Kaba Kone told reporters:
“We have not considered leaving the tournament. Organizers and CAF must improve safety. The party is not ruined, we can still have a great party if safety is guaranteed. We did not come here to play with death but to play football.”
The FLEC was not thought to be a serious risk in Cabinda, despite claiming to have kidnapped a Chinese oil worker and killed government soldiers last year.
In December, Angolan minister without portfolio Antonio Bento Bembe, a former FLEC leader, dismissed the claims and said the group no longer existed.
Jesus Take The Wheel… This is a terrible tragedy.