Guinea’s former military ruler Captain Moussa Dadis Camara in 2015 at a press conference.
Former Guinean dictator Moussa Dadis Camara was on Saturday taken from prison by a heavily armed commando during an operation that sparked heavy gunfire in the capital Conakry, lawyers and a judicial source said.
At least two other former officials currently on trial alongside Dadis Camara over a 2009 massacre during his presidency were also taken from the central prison, they said.
It was unclear whether Dadis Camara had escaped of his own free will.
A group of masked and heavily armed soldiers arrived at the prison at around 04:00 local time and entered by force, said a judicial source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
They declared they “had come to free Captain Dadis Camara”, the source said.
Inside, the group headed towards the former leader’s cell, appearing to already know its location, and took him and other detainees to an unknown location, the judicial source said.
“The attorney general confirmed to me that my client had been taken out of prison by heavily armed men,” Dadis Camara’s lawyer Jocamey Haba told AFP, raising the possibility that he was taken against his will.
“I continue to think he was kidnapped. He has confidence in the justice of his country, which is why he would never try to escape,” he added, referring to the trial against Camara currently under way.
The lawyer said his client’s life was “in danger”.
The sound of gunfire could be heard before dawn in Kaloum – a central district located on a peninsula that houses the presidency and several top government and administrative offices as well as the military headquarters and the main prison.
“There is gunfire from both automatic and weapons of war in Kaloum,” a witness from the area said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The city centre has been sealed since dawn, we can neither enter, nor leave,” a shopkeeper added, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
“I wanted to go to the port area where I work but was prevented from leaving (Kaloum), where armoured vehicles have been deployed.”
An airport source said no flights had taken off from Conakry’s international airport on Saturday morning as air traffic staff could not get to the airport from Kaloum, where they often spend the night.
Guinea, a West African country of about 14 million people, underwent a coup in September 2021, when Colonel Mamady Doumbouya stormed the presidential palace with soldiers and overthrew civilian president Alpha Conde by force.
It has been led by the junta since.
Several Guinean news sites quickly reported that Saturday events were not another coup, but that a heavily armed commando had attacked the central prison.
Guinean media reported that Dadis Camara had escaped alongside Moussa Tiegboro Camara and Claude Pivi.
Dadis Camara has been detained since going on trial in September 2022.
He and about 10 other former military and government officials are accused over a 2009 massacre carried out by security forces loyal to the then-junta leader.
The killing of 156 people and the rape of at least 109 women started at a political rally in a Conakry stadium on September 28, 2009 and continued in the days that followed, according to a UN-mandated inquiry.
Camara – who himself came to power in a coup in December 2008 – and his co-defendants are charged with murder, sexual violence, torture, abduction and kidnapping.
They face life imprisonment if convicted.
The trial is unprecedented in a country ruled for decades by authoritarian regimes, where people had become used to the impunity of the virtually untouchable security forces, according to the international commission of inquiry into the massacre.
It opened in September last year at the urging of the new strongman, Colonel Doumbouya. After his coup, he promised to rebuild the Guinean state and make justice his “compass”.
After the 2021 putsch, Doumbouya was inaugurated president and under international pressure committed to handing over power to elected civilians within two years from January 2023.
The Forces Vives de Guinee, a collective of opposition parties and organisations, have since denounced unfulfilled commitments and an authoritarian drift by Doumbouya’s junta, calling it an “emerging dictatorship”.