LUANDA, Angola — Gunmen opened fire today on a bus carrying Togo’s national football team to a tournament in Angola, wounding at least six people including two footballers from the West African nation, an official said.
Some of the players said they were inclined to pull out of the African Cup of Nations tournament following the violence, but an official in Angola said it would go ahead as planned.
Togolese football federation vice president Gabriel Ameyi said backup goalkeeper Obilale Kossi and central defender Serge Akakpo were among those hurt. The team’s top player, Emmanuel Adebayor, was unharmed, according to his club, Manchester City.
“We were machine-gunned like dogs,” Togo player Thomas Dossevi, who plays for French club Nantes, told Radio Monte Carlo. “They were armed to the teeth. … We spent 20 minutes underneath the seats of the bus.”
FC Vaslui said on its Web site that the 22-year-old Akakpo, who joined the Romanian club from Auxerre last year, was hit by two bullets and lost a lot of blood but was now out of danger.
Alaixys Romao felt Togo should not go ahead with the tournament.
“If we can boycott it, let’s do it,” Romao told French TV channel Infosport. “It’s just not on for us to be shot at because of a football match. All I can think about is stopping this competition and going home.”
Dossevi agreed: “We don’t want to play this African Cup of Nations,” he told Infosport. “We’re thinking about our teammates — to be hit by bullets when you’ve come to play football is disgusting.”
The 16-team African championship starts Sunday in Angola, with Togo due to play its opening match Monday against Ghana in Cabinda.
A senior member of the local organizing committee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the tournament would go ahead as planned. He said Didier Drogba and his teammates from Ivory Coast, considered the top African team, had arrived early today in Cabinda.
Togo’s national team had just crossed the border into Angola when the bus came under fire. Ameyi, speaking in Togo, said the team should have flown to Angola instead of traveling by road.
The wounded were taken to a hospital in Cabinda, Angola’s main oil-producing region that has been plagued by unrest. Human rights groups have accused the military of atrocities and claim government officials have embezzled millions of dollars in oil revenue. The government has denied the charges.
Angola has been struggling to climb back from decades of violence, and its government was clearly banking on the tournament as a chance to show the world it was on the way to recovery. A building boom fueled by oil wealth has included new stadiums in Cabinda and three other cities for the tournament.
An anti-colonial war had begun in the southern African country in the 1960s, and a civil war broke out after independence. The fighting ended in 2002.
Today, Dossevi told Infosport television in France the team had just crossed the border and were going through customs when the attack took place.
“We were surrounded by police buses. Everything looked fine and we came under heavy fire. Everyone scrambled under the seats trying to protect themselves. It lasted at least a quarter of an hour with the police responding.”
Claude Leroy, a former Cameroon and Ghana coach, said African footballing authorities now had to decide whether to play the tournament.
“You have to ask the question. Football’s just a game,” Leroy told RMC. “This is really serious and means that safety cannot be guaranteed. These local hotspots can be really dangerous. The CAF is going to have to take a decision on this crazy shooting.”
Before leaving for the tournament, Adebayor was asked by British journalists whether he had any reservations about playing in the politically unstable Cabinda region of Angola.
“We were born in Africa so we know what it’s about. Some people might be afraid, which is normal, I can understand that. But I’m going back to Africa, to one of the countries on my continent, and I’m prepared for Cabinda. I will enjoy myself,” the former Arsenal forward said.
It was the second major gun attack on a sports team in less than a year. Several players were injured and six policemen were killed when gunmen opened fire on the Sri Lankan cricket team’s bus in Lahore, Pakistan, in March 2009.
The violence also comes five months before the World Cup in South Africa, the first to be held on the continent. The biggest concern leading to that 32-nation tournament has been the security situation in South Africa, a country with one of the world’s highest crime rates.
Togo, which played at the 2006 World Cup, did not qualify for this year’s tournament in South Africa.