(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Imam detained after attack on Conte dies in custody

[Guinea] Main mosque of Conakry, June 21, 2004.
Pierre Holtz

An elderly Muslim cleric, who was one of 54 people detained at a mosque following an assassination attempt against President Lansana Conte of Guinea, has died in custody, officials and relatives said on Monday.

On Sunday evening, the government released all the other people who had been picked up along with Alhaji Mamadi Toure during prayers at his mosque last Wednesday, even though none of them had been questioned by police.

One of the group, Namory Toure, told IRIN that during their three days in detention “we were neither questioned, nor tortured or harrassed."

The detainees were arrested at a mosque near the spot where Conte’s motorcade came under fire from unidentified gunmen on Wednesday morning.

The 70-year-old president, who has ruled Guinea for the past 21 years, was unhurt, but one of his bodyguards was seriously injured

Officials said Imam Toure, who was 68, suffered a cardiac attack on Saturday while in custody. He was rushed to a clinic, but died on Sunday, leaving behind two wives and 15 children. He was buried soon afterwards.

One of the iman's children, Ansuman Toure, told IRIN that "as true Muslims we leave this to Allah. But we really would have loved to get to the bottom of this and know why, of all the mosques in this area, they came here to arrest over 50 people.

The overwhelming majority of Guinea's eight million people, including President Conte, are Muslim

Eyewitnesses said that following the attack on the president's motorcade in an outer suburb of Conakry, police swooped on the area arresting people at random, including youths, old men and street hawkers.

Conte said in a speech on state radio and television on Wednesday night that he had survived the assassination attempt unharmed, but gave little clue as to who was behind it.

The shooting was subsequently condemned by the African Union and by the Republican Front for Democratic Change (FRAD), a coalition of six opposition parties in Guinea.

There is no love lost between Conte, a former army colonel who came to power in a 1984, coup and the opposition parties, who accuse him of hanging on to power by systematically rigging every election since then.

But former prime minister and FRAD spokesman Sidya Toure, told IRIN: "In as much as we look forward to ruling this nation in the future, we do not believe in attaining that power from the barrel of a gun."

Moussa Sampil, the Minister for Internal Security, blamed the assassination attempt on un-named opponents of Conte. "This morning's events only confirm what we have said all along; there are plots against the regime," he told Radio France Internationale (RFI) a few hours after the shooting.

One eyewitness of the gunfight told Radio France Internationale that the attackers had exchanged gunfire with Conte's bodyguards for about four minutes before dropping their weapons and fleeing.

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