Emmanuel Adebayor's Togo Team Ambushed on Way to African Cup of Nations

Owen WatsonCorrespondent IJanuary 8, 2010

RIFU, MIYAGI, JAPAN - OCTOBER 14:  Players of Togo pose for photographs during the Kirin Challenge Cup 2009 match between Japan and Togo at Miyagi Stadium on October 14, 2009 in Rifu, Miyagi, Japan.  (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)
Junko Kimura/Getty Images

Reports are emerging from Angola that the Togolese national team has been attacked by rebels in the border region of Cabinda. Manchester City have confirmed that Premier League star Emmanuel Adebayor wasn’t wounded.

Others weren't so lucky; Romanian side Vaslui confirmed Serge Akakpo suffered serious injuries, but is recovering from emergency surgery. Kodjovi Obilal, the side’s goal keeping coach, and the team doctor were all shot. The bus driver was killed.

Vaslui’s statement read: “Badly injured in an ambush in Angola, Serge Akakpo is now out of danger. Akakpo was struck by two bullets in the attack and has lost much blood. His condition was stabilised by doctors. FC Vaslui have been in touch with relatives of the player, who confirmed he has undergone surgery, which went very well.''

Details of the incident are still emerging, but it appears that the bus was passing some kind of check point after entering the region of Cabinda—one of the host regions of the tournament. At this time it remains unclear why the gunmen opened fire at the bus, the oil-producing region has been targeted by FLEC separatist rebels in the past.

The Angolan minister in charge of the Cabinda region, Antonio Bento Bembe (formerly of separatist group FLEC-Rennovada), denied the attack was orchestrated by FLEC, denouncing the attack as an act of terrorism.

"FLEC no long exists, the attack comes from certain individuals who want to cause problems for us," he said.

However, a statement released via Radio France International seemed to contradict this. A group called FLEC-FAC (Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda—Armed Forces of Cabinda) claimed responsibility for the attack.

"The CAF (Confederation of African Football) was warned repeatedly that this was a country at war. They had documents explaining this, but they wouldn't heed the warnings. They must take responsibility," said the statement.
"We are not rebels, but a military and political movement originating in Cabinda. We're not rebels, but resistance fighters. Cabinda is a territory illegally occupied by Angola, and we are fighting for its liberation.
"This operation was just the beginning of a series of targeted actions that will continue constantly throughout Cabinda's territory."

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) made a statement after crisis talks with the Organisation Committee of the Nations Cup (COCAN). There were supposed to be seven games in Cabinda, and although the tournament will go ahead those fixtures may now be moved. Especially in light of FLEC-FAC's stated intention to continue their attacks.

"Our great concern is for the players, but the championship goes ahead," said CAF communications director Souleymane Habuba to AFP.
"We need to know all the facts, we haven't got them all yet," he added. "We can't give a full reaction from reports in the media."

Thomas Dossevi, who represents Togo and FC Nantes, told French sport radio RMC that those present were fired upon with automatic weapons.

"We were machine-gunned like dogs. At the border with Angola—machine-gunned! I don't know why," Dossevi told French sport radio RMC.

"We were under the seats of the bus for 20 minutes trying to get away from the bullets."

He described the gunmen as hooded and "armed to the teeth."

"We were surrounded by the police and everything was in order. Then there was heavy firing and police fired back," he told French news agency AFP.

"You would have thought we were in a war. We were shocked. When we got out of the bus we asked ourselves, why us?"

The immediate reaction of the players was that they did not wish to participate in the tournament, though there has been no official word of whether the team plans to withdraw.

"We don't really want to play in the Africa Cup of Nations," said Dossevi. "We are thinking of our friends, the injured players."

Midfielder Alaixys Romao echoed this sentiment, reflecting on the horrific events.

"We're not thinking yet of what could happen," said the Grenoble player. "But it's true that no-one wants to play. We're not capable of it.

"We are thinking first of all about the health of our injured because there was a lot of blood on the ground,” he continued. “For the moment there is not much news because they have been taken to different hospitals.

"In cases like these we are thinking of those near us, of those we Love because that really could have been the end of us," he added.

Midfielder Richmond Forson revealed the number of injuries could have been much worse had the gunmen not originally fired on the wrong bus.

''It was the bus carrying our baggage which was in front of us which they fired on the most,'' he told Canal Plus. ''They thought we were in the bus in front.

''Fortunately for us. That's what saved us. Then they fired on our driver and those who were in front. The windscreen was shattered by the first bullets. It's disgusting to take bullets for a football match.''

As time goes on a clearer picture of the events are sure to emerge, but questions arise. Why didn’t the Togolese team fly into Angola? If they did have to drive a bus, why did the team drive through a region where rebels are presumably known to operate?

Why wasn't security tighter? Last March gunmen attacked the Sri Lanka cricket team on their way to a game in Pakistan—lessons should have been learned.

If the country has an armed resistance, why is the tournament being held there? What role do FIFA play in organising security? And finally, what are the chances of this kind of incident occurring in this summer’s World Cup?

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