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Report: Armed men in civilian clothes sow terror during unrest in Senegal

Video recordings and testimonies in Senegal indicate that armed men in civilian clothes arrived in pickup trucks and chased protesters during the recent unrest following the prison sentence of dissident Ousmane Sonko, according to AFP.

Ndiri Niang, a sheep seller who witnessed the incidents, said that a white “pickup” truck entered (Saturday) the “Genau Rails Nord” area in a suburb of Dakar, carrying “dozens of armed men” dressed in ordinary clothes. He added, “They had a list of names of young men who said they were demonstrators, and they chased them.”

A day earlier, at least 3 young men from the neighborhood had been killed. A video spread in the area showing Basilo Sarr (31 years old) killed by a bullet in the head, according to a number of witnesses. Another witness, who declined to be named out of fear for his safety, corroborated Ndere Niang’s account. He said, “I am afraid… We know that there are spies.”

Some mystery surrounds the wave of violence that shook Senegal from the first to the third of June (June), starting with the circumstances in which 16 people were killed, and who killed them. The authority and the opposition are exchanging accusations of killing them.

However, witnesses interviewed by the French Press Agency spoke of the presence of unidentified armed men during the confrontations.

A young man in a hospital where he was admitted after suffering injuries in Beijing, one of the hotbeds of clashes on the outskirts of Dakar as well, said that he found himself in the middle of the clashes while traveling in a vehicle. He said, “I saw a young man lying wounded on the ground. I stopped and there I saw dozens of men in civilian clothes chasing demonstrators.”

He added that “they were carrying firearms or knives.”

Opposition supporters clash with security forces in Dakar (Reuters)

“Battle of Tire”

The young man was shot in the thigh. He said others identified the shooter, a wrestler. Traditional wrestling practitioners have been invited in the past to play a role in the atmosphere of political confrontations before.

Violence erupts after Sonko is sentenced to two years in prison in a sex scandal. He is currently ineligible for the 2024 presidential election.

Sonko loyalists accuse the presidential camp of paying “thugs” who travel in pickup trucks to provide assistance to the police and gendarmerie and crush the demonstrators. Human rights defenders accused the police and gendarmerie of committing “brutal” acts.

There were unproven pictures of policemen using civilians as human shields to protect themselves from shelling.

The battle of images is raging.

The government and police released footage of armed men, who they confirmed were demonstrators. The government accuses “hidden forces” and “foreigners” of seeking to destabilize the country, without any explanations.

Maham Ka, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior, told AFP that some policemen were working in plain clothes, but added that he could not say more for security reasons. He continued, “I do not know these people in the trucks, and I cannot confirm that they work with the police.”

A riot police officer speaks to a man during clashes with supporters of the opposition leader in Senegal (Reuters)

Defining the responsibilities

Political analyst Ibrahima Bakhoum believes that politicians recruited “thugs” in the past to protect them. He said, “The Senegalese political scene has always been violent, but violence has never reached the current level. We are now seeing real gangs being recruited in the neighborhoods who have the capabilities to do so.

More than ten “pickup” cars were stationed in Dakar (Saturday) in front of the headquarters of the presidential party, the “Alliance for the Republic.”

Dozens of young men flocked to the building to receive money. Two said they had been paid to stop the protesters from vandalizing, but confirmed that they were not armed.

Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s regional director, said the NGO was seeking to verify numerous videos showing armed individuals in civilian clothes. She added, “These people always move alongside the security forces or before their eyes.”

And she added that these armed men are traveling in the same types of cars parked in front of the presidential party headquarters.

And called for investigations because “the network of responsibilities must be clearly defined.”

And the Senegalese government announced, on Wednesday evening, the opening of “immediate judicial investigations” into the “unprecedented acts of violence” that the country witnessed after the ruling against opposition figure Osman Sonko, during which at least 16 people were killed last week.

A statement released after a cabinet meeting said these investigations aimed to “uncover responsibilities related to these events” that took place between June 1 and 3 in Dakar and other regions after Sonko was convicted in connection with a sex scandal.

The government had announced investigations after the March 2021 clashes also related to Sonko, during which 12 people were killed.

Human rights advocates say they are still awaiting the results of the investigation.