In the latest blow to stability in a country battling two military coups less than a year later, Malian interim president Colonel Asimi Goita survived an assassination attempt at a mosque in Bamako on Tuesday.
An AFP journalist saw two attackers – one of whom was carrying a knife – attacked Goita after prayers for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha at the capital’s Grand Mosque.
Goita, a Special Forces colonel who was named transitional chairman in May, was quickly removed by security.
The journalist saw blood at the scene, although it was not clear who was injured.
Goita later appeared on state broadcaster ORTM, where he said he was doing “very well” after the attack.
“It’s part of being a leader, there’s always bad material,” she said, dressed in a blue cap and bright blue gown.
“There are people out there who want to try things at any time they create instability.”
His office issued a statement saying Goita was “safe and sound” after being labeled as an attempted murder.
Security had suppressed one attacker, and “the investigation is ongoing,” the president said.
The attackers went for the president as an imam was directing worshipers to a ritual animal sacrifice outside the Great Mosque.
Religious Affairs Minister Mamadou Kon, who was present at the mosque, told AFP that a man “tried to stab the president with a knife” but was caught.
Mosque director Letus Toure said one attacker had attacked the president but injured someone else.
Later, a security official who requested anonymity said that two people were arrested and are now in custody.
However, Goita mentioned only one attacker during his televised address. As did his prime minister, Choguel Kokalla Maiga, who made a similar statement.
According to AFP journalists, the atmosphere was calm in Bamako on Tuesday after the attack, including in the area around the mosque.
The shocking attack comes after months of political turmoil in Mali, which is also reeling from a jihadist insurgency that has killed thousands and forced hundreds of thousands out of their homes.
Goita was sworn in in June after leading the country’s second coup in less than a year.
He led a coup last August that ousted elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita after massive protests over corruption and the long-running jihadist struggle.
The junta then 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, removed the president, Bah Nadav, and premier Moctor 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.
Faced with the wrath of the African Union and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, Goita vowed that the government would “maintain all its commitments” and pledged to hold “credible, fair and transparent elections”.
The assassination bid is the latest in the country’s long history of unrest.
Mali, an extremely poor state of about 20 million people, has known little stability or democracy since gaining independence from France in 1960.
Its West African neighbors are watching the crisis deepening with restlessness, fearing the impact on efforts to stop the jihadist insurgency in the Sahel.
The bloody campaign began in 2012 in the north of Mali, 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 campaign, has been particularly critical of the military takeover in Mali.
It suspended military cooperation after the second coup and then announced a major downgrade of its 5,100-member Barkhane mission.