CONAKRY, Guinea – Guinea's president has been flown to Morocco for medical treatment after he was shot during an assassination attempt nearly a year after he seized power in a coup, a government official said Friday.
Indicating the possible severity of his wounds, President Moussa "Dadis" Camara left the West African country, which he had never dared do since taking power. He had nearly left on multiple occasions, only to cancel at the last minute because of fears of a counter-coup, leaving private jets idling at the airport.
Communication Minister Idrissa Cherif declined to elaborate on Camara's wounds, saying only that they were not life-threatening and that Camara would undergo further tests in Morocco. Camara had breakfast with his closest aides and is "walking and talking and doing fine," Cherif said.
"He had an audience with us just before leaving," Cherif said. "Everything is under control."
Several people, though, said the president had suffered a bullet wound to the head. Guinea's communication minister denied those reports.
Morocco's official news agency reported Friday afternoon that Camara had arrived in Rabat to seek medical treatment. A statement from the Foreign Ministry said he was being allowed in for "strictly humanitarian considerations."
Guinea's government had said earlier that Camara was shot Thursday by Abubakar "Toumba" Diakite, who commands the presidential guard. A rift had opened between the two following a September massacre during which human rights groups say presidential guard members killed at least 157 unarmed civilians at a pro-democracy rally.
A senior civil servant who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, said that he had spoken to members of the military who confirmed that Camara was in serious condition from a head wound.
A retired diplomat, who also asked that his name not be used for the same reason, said that he, too, had spoken to the coup leader's aides who said that Camara was bleeding from the head.
The 45-year-old Camara was shot while at a military camp housing hundreds of men under Toumba's control, Cherif said. Camara had driven to Camp Koundara to confront Toumba after Toumba went to a downtown police station and released officers that were loyal to him but whom Camara had ordered arrested, said Cherif.
Cherif declined to say how many people had been arrested in the ongoing investigation. He confirmed that Toumba was still at large along with a contingent of his men. Members of the junta, including Toumba, are believed to lead private armies that are faithful only to them.
Thursday's attack underscored the deep divide inside the military clique that grabbed control of Guinea last December following the death of the country's longtime dictator, Lansana Conte. Camara had initially promised to quickly organize elections, but then reversed course and began hinting that he planned to run for office, prompting a massive protest Sept. 28.
Toumba is accused of having led the presidential guard that opened fire on the peaceful demonstrators, who had gathered inside the capital's national stadium. Human rights groups say at least 157 people were killed and dozens of women were raped by the red beret-wearing presidential guard who also assaulted them with bayonets, rifle butts and with pieces of wood. The government put the death toll at 57.
At least 20 women were kidnapped and driven away in military trucks to private villas where they were drugged and videotaped while they were being gang-raped over several days, according to three survivors as well as several human rights groups. The government has denied all wrongdoing and blamed opposition leaders for going ahead with a banned protest.
The massacre led the European Union and the African Union to impose sanctions on Guinea, including on top members of the junta, who are now the subject of a travel ban. Sources inside the military say that it deeply aggravated divisions that were already present and has led to the clique fracturing further.
A U.N. mission was in Conakry this week investigating the massacre and interviewed top military commanders in order to try to understand how the order to kill protesters was given. Some may face charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
Hardly anyone had heard of Camara until his men broke down the glass doors of the state TV station on Dec. 23, 2008. He announced that the constitution had been dissolved and that the country was under the rule of a military junta.
The military junta put top government officials on TV, where they detailed their roles in a lucrative international cocaine trade in Guinea. Guinea and other West African countries in recent years emerged as key transshipment points for cocaine bound from South America to Europe.
Camara's arrests of corrupt officials won him admiration, but he has been criticized for his love of the spotlight and his insistence on broadcasting rambling, multi-hour tirades. Camara generally sleeps all day only to emerge at night, and has a waiting room adorned with 6-foot (1.8-meter)-tall portraits of himself.
Since winning independence half a century ago from France, Guinea has been pillaged by its ruling elite. Its 10 million people are among the world's poorest, even though its soil has diamonds, gold, iron and half the world's reserves of the raw material used to make aluminum.
In October, Guinea's ruling junta announced a $7 billion mining deal with a Chinese company that gives it access to Guinea's minerals.