Mali on Wednesday said it had opened a probe into an attempt to assassinate military strongman Assimi Goita, the figure behind two coups in less than a year in one of Africa’s most troubled countries.
“An ill-intentioned individual tried to physically harm” Goita after prayers for Eid al-Adha at Bamako’s Grand Mosque, prosecutor Bourama Kariba Konate said in a statement.
The act “comes under the categories of harming state security and attempted murder,” he said.
An inquiry has been opened “to shed light on this event.”
Goita was whisked away after a man armed with a knife lunged at him, an AFP reporter at the scene saw.
The leader later appeared on state TV to say he was doing “very well” and downplayed the significance of the assault.
“That’s part of being a leader, there are always malcontents,” he said. “There are people who at any time may want to try things to cause instability.”
A suspect who was taken away from the mosque remained in custody on Wednesday while police interviewed witnesses, commissioner Sadio Tomoda told AFP.
His identity was not revealed, but Tomoda said late Tuesday that he was a teacher, without elaborating.
Bamako was calm after the assault, according to AFP journalists. Wednesday was a public holiday to mark the Eid Muslim festival.
– Political turmoil –
The attack capped months of political turmoil in a country that has rarely enjoyed stability since gaining independence from France in 1960.
Goita, a special forces colonel in his late thirties, headed a putsch last August that ousted elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita after weeks of protests over graft and a bloody jihadist insurgency.
The junta, in the face of international condemnation, handed power to a civilian-led transitional government which promised to restore civilian rule in February 2022.
But in late May, Goita, who was vice president under the transitional government, ousted the president, Bah Ndaw, and premier Moctar Ouane, saying they had sought to “sabotage” the handover.
In June, with Goita as interim president, a new government was unveiled, with military figures in key roles.
As the African Union and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS piled on pressure, Goita vowed the government would “uphold all its commitments” and pledged to stage “credible, fair and transparent elections.”
Mali’s neighbours and allies have been viewing the crisis with disquiet, fearing the impact on efforts to stem a jihadist insurgency that is unfurling across the Sahel.
The bloody campaign erupted in the north of Mali in 2012, and has since spread to Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.
France, the mainstay of the anti-jihadist operation, has been especially critical of the military takeover in Mali.
It suspended military cooperation after the second coup and then announced a major drawdown of its 5,100-man Barkhane mission.