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Togolese lucky to be alive
by Paul Kennedy, January 11th, 2010 7AM

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TAGS:  african nations cup

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[AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS] Two days after an attack on its team bus left its Angolan driver, an assistant coach and their communications officer dead and two players injured, Togo returned home from the Africa Cup of Nations without playing a game. It was still unclear exactly what happened in the jungle on the road from the border with Congo, where the Sparrow Hawks had been training, to Cabinda and who attacked them, but the players were all lucky to be alive after the harrowing half hour during which gunmen brandishing machine guns  sprayed their bus with bullets and they prayed for their lives.

According to Bayer Leverkusen defender Assimiou Toure, he and his teammates were only saved because the gunmen initially attacked the bus carrying the team's luggage and equipment and when they fired on the team bus they attacked the front.

"It was horrible. I was scared to death," Toure, who was in the back of the bus, told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag. "The driver and two others on the bus were hit in their lower body and others got bullets in their calf."

The Togolese were the only team not travel by airplane into Angola -- the African soccer confederation says Togo was the only team not to attend the pre-tournament logistics meeting -- but their convoy did have a military escort, which may have saved them, when they arrived in Angola from the coastal city of Pointe-Noire, where they had been training for the tournament.

"We were coming from the Congo and were only about 10 minutes away from the Angolan border with our two buses," he said. "In the middle of the forest, we were suddenly ambushed and shot at. We were fortunate - they absolutely peppered the first bus with bullets, probably thinking that we were all sitting in there, but that was only our luggage. The whole thing lasted about half an hour. We had an escort and they shot back and kept the attackers in check and called for assistance. If the army had not been there, then none of us would be alive now. All I could do was jump under my seat and pray."

A faction of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda claimed responsibility for the attach and vowed to continue its separatist fight in oil-rich Cabinda, an enclave separated from the rest of Angola.

A guerrilla war has been waged for the last 30 years in the former Portuguese colony.

The Sparrow Hawks returned to Lome, the Togolese capital, late Sunday.

"We have ordered a three-day mourning," said Togo sports minister Christophe Tchao of Sunday's decision. "The players are leaving with the bodies of their fallen brothers and we have asked the Confederation of African Football to find an arrangement so we can catch up with the competition later."

 



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