It was like a thunderbolt when the news spread in the morning on Friday, 11 September. A team of men fully armed and dressed in military fatigues had ambushed the vehicle of General-Major Prime Niyongabo and his escort on the Rumonge National Road RN3.
By Abbas Mbazumutima and Dieudonné Hakizimana translated by Diane Uwimana
The chief of Staff survived the attack that took place a hundred of meters from the Muha Bridge on National Road RN3. “There was a heavy shooting of automatic arms, rocket and grenade explosions. His vehicle, a jeep V8, was damaged on the right tire. It drove slowly but it continued.”
According to eyewitnesses, a bus transporting police officials and civil personnel of the Ministry of Public Security, sustained fire and one person was killed instantly. “The jeep of the General overtook the bus and escaped the barrage of the gunfire. It arrived in the compound of the Chief of Staff with one tire completely flat.”
On the scene, the remains of the rocket and hundreds of casings were seen illustrating how the heavy the gunfire was.
A member of the General Staff, speaking under the condition of anonymity, reveals that the Chief of Staff locked himself in his office for 3 hours: He didn’t even come to the ritual of salvation of the flag. Some of his military bodyguards directly surrounded the offices, preventing anyone to approach. ”
Meanwhile, another witness met at the Revolution Square, panting, certifies having seen the escort of General-Major Prime Niyongabo under fire from the side of the Saint-Jean Clinic at the junction of the RN3 and street Nyabukumbu paved. “Probably the gunmen who committed the attack were ambushed on this side, evidenced by the bullet holes in the walls of houses located on both sides of the road on this section.” The white gateway, the entrance to the headquarters of the NGO “Terres des Hommes” is riddled with bullets.
This axis was blocked for more than an hour; the vehicles on their way into town were diverted to other roads. Since the attack that killed Lieutenant General Adolphe Nshimirimana on 2 August, heavily armed soldiers are usually stationed along this axis that the chief of staff uses every morning.
A report to the height of unprecedented violence
After the shooting, the toll was heavy: six people killed, including three bodyguards of General-Major Prime Niyongabo and seven wounded, including six soldiers. According to the spokesman of the Burundian army , Colonel Gaspard Baratuza , the Chief of Staff came out intact the attack against his convoy perpetrated by an armed group yet unidentified. “On our side, this attack has killed three soldiers and a civilian working with the Department of Public security Safety. Enemy side, two attackers were killed in the ambush; they were all wearing military uniforms,” says Colonel Baratuza.
What about those enemies?
According to a source in the army, it is an internal conflict. In fact, two people killed on the side of the enemy are military of “camp Base”. The attacker wounded in the arm is also a soldier. He works in the military police. After the attack, he was captured by police who probably led the national information service for inquiries, the source said. He added that these three soldiers were on a three days “leave”. Curiously, their destination was not marked on their roadmap. “This is unheard of in the army,” says a member who requested anonymity. According to this source, other elements among those who tended the ambush have not been arrested.
Sources in the army report that Sunday, September 13, Colonel Sebatutsi, commander of the brigade of logistics commonly known “Base”, appeared at SNR. After questioning, he returned home. A wave of arrests followed. Unfortunately, laments our source, the arrested soldiers are only in the category of troop men and NCOs: “These cannot organize an attack in broad daylight against a chief of staff in function.”
Searches all directions
After the shooting, two houses located next to the Saint-Jean Clinic, a hundred meters from the Muha bridge are thoroughly searched. Everything was turned upside down to look for any clues, the living room, the bedrooms, everything was scattered on the ground by the police.
Another property, that welcomed an “unannounced visit” of the police, is located on the 4th Avenue, in Bwiza neighbourhood. They encircled the house in the evening and the search began early morning. One of the injured in the attack is renting the house. According to a reliable source, he is suspected of being the “mastermind” of the attack. Before this incident, he was in a position at the Lycée Scheppers in Nyakabiga neighbourhood. His relatives do not know where he was hospitalized.
Gaspard Baratuza: “They wanted to destroy the cohesion of the National Defense Army”
The spokesperson of the National Defense Army will not make too many comments on the results of the attack and the weapons used. According to him, those who planned the attack against General Major Prime Niyongabo had the objective of destroying the cohesion of the National Defense Army, the result of successful integration since 2005.
“The Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs condemns vigorously all forms of targeted killing observed in recent days,” said Colonel Baratuza. He said the Ministry of Defense and Ex-Combatants recommends that all soldiers remain calm and united. They are called to resist any form of manipulation that tends to destroy the National Defense Army and consequently the nation.
Louis Kamwenubusa: “This type of attack is meant to create friction”
In a statement of the president read the same day by his deputy spokesman, the Head of State condemned the ambush. “This type of attack is meant to create friction) among the security forces.” He asks members of these bodies to “remain calm and united in order not to fall into the trap of the enemy.”
The President of the Republic has asked the courts to do everything so that these criminals are identified, interrogated and punished according to the law within a period not exceeding one week. “Burundi is a member of Interpol and has the right to pursue any criminal wherever he is,” insisted Louis Kamwenubusa.
In that statement, the President of the Republic Pierre Nkurunziza took the opportunity to thank the police and judicial institutions “that constantly punish these criminals.” He called on all Burundians to remain united in these moments. He said he was convinced that “sponsors will one day fall into their own trap”.