The Fake Assassination Attempt against Angola’s Vice-President
Why does the president of the Republic, João Lourenço, allow his government to be tarnished with fabricated accusations regarding the supposed attempted murder of his vice-president in the first months of his term? Why would the president allow the National Police and the Criminal Investigation Service (SIC) to use a machete as an official torture tool? Why does the president allow the judicial system, especially SIC, to be so inhumane, specializing in forging absurd evidence and incarcerating innocents? Why does João Lourenço allow the involvement of staff members of the Security House of the Presidency in an act of torture to go unpunished?
Let us turn to the facts. Five citizens, detained more than a month ago, are accused of the attempted murder of vice-president Bornito de Sousa. The accusation was concocted from a banal discussion about parking the car which the five were in. They were barbarously tortured, filmed in possession of ridiculous “evidence”, and then forced to sign confessions under threat of death.
Vice-president Bornito de Sousa is a lawyer and a law professor.
Who are the five “commandos”?
On February 3rd, bricklayer Pedro Afonso Miguel “Baby”, 34, from Uíge, asked his accounting technician neighbor Baião Conceição Mendonça, 55, to give him a ride.
According to his testimony, provided to Maka Angola, Pedro Afonso Miguel had the possibility of doing a one-off job at the Jardim de Rosas [Rose Gardens] Condominium, in the Camama zone in Luanda, opposite the Institute of Police Science. He and Mendonça left the neighborhood Cassequel Cantinton, where they live, in a Mitsubishi L200.
On the way, Baião Mendonça spoke on the phone with a fellow colleague from Malanje, electrician Morais Joaquim Muxibi, 52, with whom he had worked at the provincial branch of the Ministry of Construction in Malanje.
Muxibi was returning from Talatona, where he had done a one-off job as a self-employed worker. The electrician, a Jehovah’s Witness, was about to go to a religious service in a place near his new home in the Calemba II neighborhood. “Baião wanted to see my new home. We arranged to meet at the Camama roundabout. He explained that first we would go together to drop his neighbor at the Jardim de Rosas Condominium and then we would go to Calemba,” said Muxibi.
When they were already near the Garden of Roses, Baião Mendonça saw another colleague of his, bricklayer Domingos João Caputo, 39. The latter was accompanied by another bricklayer Nelito Cambari Tunguno, a native of Kwanza Sul. Caputo and Tunguno were returning from a construction site nearby, where they worked.
“Mr. Baião stopped to greet his friend Caputo and asked us where we were going. We said we were going to Camama. He offered us a ride. He said that he was also on his way to Camama, but that he had to drop a friend at the Jardim de Rosas,” explained Nelito Tunguno.
The Garden of Roses
Around 5:00 p.m., Baião Mendonça entered the condominium and complied with the entrance protocols; registration of the vehicle, identification and a confirmation phone call to the host.
“Baião could not find the street, although he followed the explanations they gave us. So, he chose to stop. He parked the car where there was space and asked me to call Mr. Manuel (the host in the condominium), to pick us up where we were,” said Pedro Miguel.
As soon as they parked, a guy in a tie knocked on the driver’s door. “He asked us if we knew where we had parked. Mr. Baião replied that there were no cones or signs there [to block parking],” explained Pedro Miguel.
Baião Mendonça explained: “As there was no understanding between myself and the security guard, I asked him to call the police, to see who was right. I had parked the car on a public road and there were five more cars parked in the same lane.”
The National Police officers from Police Outpost Bom Sucesso rushed to the scene and found the five occupants inside the car. None of them had left the car until the police arrived.
To clarify the situation, Pedro Miguel called his contact at the Jardim de Rosas and asked him to come and explain the situation to the National Police officers. During that phone call, “the police began to insult the man, to call him son of a bitch and claim he had put bandits inside the condominium to commit assaults.”
“The police threatened Mr. Manuel, our contact, so that he would not show up at the place”, reported the detainee.
The National Police officers ordered the occupants to exit the car and handcuffed them. They searched the car and found “a new car battery, scissors, and plastic bags.” The men were all taken to the police station.
At the police station, after a brief warm-up with slaps and kicks, the guards progressed to torture. Pedro Miguel described the experience: “They put me in the ‘airplane’ position. They handcuffed my wrists to my ankles, behind my back, and lifted me by the handcuffs, stretching my arms, chest, and legs from behind. Then I was beaten with a machete on the back and on the buttocks. Due to the pain, I could not tell how many times. I got beaten more than twenty times. After an hour of torture, I was put in a cell.”
According to Pedro Miguel, it was past 10:00 p.m. when his executioners returned and removed the detainees from the cell, going ahead with a new torture session. “They came with a rusty Kalashnikov gun, with no magazine, and began to torture us again with the ‘airplane’ system and with machete beatings on the back and buttocks.”
Domingos João Caputo explained that at the police station, they were informed that they had parked the car in front of the private residence of Vice-President Bornito de Sousa.
“The police officers told us that because of the lack of respect, because we had parked in front of the vice president’s house, we really had to get beat up,” Caputo said. “I was the first one to receive slaps. But the real torture began after 10:00 p.m.”
Also handcuffed in the ‘airplane’ position, Caputo described: “I was beaten more than thirty times with the side of the machete on the buttocks. I stopped screaming. I could no longer feel any pain. I was just telling them to kill me and that my crime was that I got a ride [from a friend].”
According to this statement, the commander of the police unit, sub-inspector Cátia Bonifácio, who witnessed the torture, ordered it to end. “The subordinates continued to beat us, saying that we, the ‘rogues’, had to find out who owned the gun they had found in the condominium sewer,” Caputo continues.
Baião Mendonça described the police officers’ violence, which was not limited to ‘airplane torture’ and the use of the machete, but continued with kicks in the face: “I was injured with lots of punching, and I had blood in my eyes for a while.”
Morais Muxibi was also whipped more than twenty times on the buttocks with the side of the machete, “punched in the face and kicked everywhere.”
Nelito Tunguno suffered similar punishment. In addition to the aforementioned ‘airplane torture’: “They [the police officers] did not want to know the truth. The more we told the truth, the more we were tortured.”
“When the commander saw that the torture was too much, she ordered her subordinates to stop so we would not be killed there,” continued Pedro Miguel.
The evidence concoction
Baião Mendonça described his astonishment when, after 10:00 pm, he saw the police officers arriving to get them out of the cell. “They told us they found a gun in the sewer. The gun did not even have a magazine and it was all rusty. Then they created a new version and claimed to have found the gun in the car. They also brought one more knife and a hammer,” he says.
Caputo corroborated: “The gun was dry. And how could we have found open sewage in the condominium to lay the gun there, if we could not even find the house we were headed to?”
Morais Muxibi added that the National Police and the SIC officers “later invented that there was a sixth man among us who escaped with the gun magazine.”
Armed with forged “evidence,” and after the torture session, the officers then proceeded to a photographic session of the suspects wielding the “guns” used for the “attack” on Vice-President Bornito de Sousa.
Pedro Miguel “Baby” is the one who described Baião Mendonça’s misfortune: “As the torture was too much, he agreed to take the gun so that they could photograph him holding it. He had not yet been interrogated and continued to be tortured. ”
“The officers gave me their machete to hold for the photograph – the same one they used to torture me. This was now my murder weapon against the vice-president,” continued Pedro Miguel.
Morais Muxibi did not escape the staging either: using the bag where they had placed the battery found in the vehicle, “the policemen put the gun inside it that they had first given Baião to hold, and then they photographed me.”
When his turn arrived, Domingos Caputo recounted: “They forced me to hold a hammer, as proof of the tool that I used to attack the vice-president. And they photographed me holding it. I could not refuse after so much torture. The beating with the machete was too much.”
Nelito Tunguno was forced to hold a bunch of plastic bags (blue and transparent striped bags, usually used to sell bread in bakeries) as photographic evidence. “The police said the bags were to be used to cover the faces of the vice-president’s relatives before we hurt them,” he said.
“The commander was present, dressed as a civilian with a bubú [traditional Angolan dress], and she witnessed the photo session and the next torture session,” added Caputo.
We are therefore facing a typical movie produced by SIC’s and the National Police’s imagination. The plot? Three bricklayers, an electrician and an accounting technician threaten state security by carrying out an assassination attempt on the vice-president. Just like Rambo, all they need is a rusty gun with no magazine, a machete, a hammer, a knife, and plastic bags.
In 2015, a group of 15 youngsters who were discussing a book about non-violence in a bookstore were arrested during their meeting and accused by the then attorney general, General João Maria de Sousa, of planning a coup and the assassination of then President José Eduardo dos Santos. Here, again, the indictment was typical of a MPLA state security fiction script: the youngsters were supposedly going to burn tires near the presidential palace to drive the president away with the smoke, and then seize power.
In step the soldiers of the Security Office
The following morning, six soldiers in uniform appeared in the police station identifying themselves as belonging to the Security Office of the President of the Republic and Military Counterintelligence.
“The soldiers accused us of trying to assassinate vice-president Bornito de Sousa. They shouted: ‘You want to kill our vice-president!’,” explained Pedro Miguel.
“One of the soldiers pushed me aside and promised to help me if I told him the truth. When I began to speak the truth, he beat me up, because I did not say what he wanted to hear,” said Domingos Caputo.
At that time, according to Baião Mendonça, the police officers showed more proof: “They brought a magazine for the weapon they claimed was ours. The previous day we had asked how it would be possible to carry out any action with a weapon with no magazine.”
The five detainees were then transported in a GMC van, used exclusively by the Presidential Guard Unit (UGP).
Nelito Tunguno added a detail that would be funny if the situation were not tragic: “The men from the UGP took pictures of us and put them on Facebook.” But the worst was what happened next: “They laid us under the benches [of the van] and took us to the National Police Division Command in Talatona. On the way, they trampled on our heads, ribs, and whole bodies with their boots. They gave us punches, slaps and kicks.”
Domingos João Caputo felt particularly aggrieved about the humiliation inflicted by the military men working for the president’s Security House, since he has a military background at the service of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA): “In 1998, with the 18th Regiment, I fought in Boma, Matadi and Muanda in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 1999, I was on the battle fronts of Lunji, Catabola, Nharea and Chipepa. I left the army in 2000, after being wounded in combat and evacuated to Luanda. Now I’m being treated like an animal.”
But the reports of torture and abuse do not stop here: when they were already in the National Police Division Command in Talatona, the soldiers continued to kick the detainees, punch them and slap them. Pedro Miguel told us: “We were told: ‘speak the truth and we will free you.’ They demanded our confession, as if we had really attempted to assassinate the vice-president.”
According to the victims, the soldiers only put an end to the beating when the unit commander arrived at the scene.
Domingos Caputo stated: “I signed my confession without having read it, as the SIC investigator demanded. There was excessively heavy torture. I could not refuse. I was afraid to die. The SIC investigator, the light-skinned and strong one, told us that he would put us into a toxic prison where we would die. ”
Morais Muxibi also asserted his weakness: “I was afraid to die. I signed the confession without reading it. The torture was too much, even here in the Talatona Division with the prosecutors nearby.”
“I was being beaten, I signed it too. I was afraid. I don’t even know how we were alive here in jail. These men lie and kill,” said Nelito Tunguno.
After being interrogated, Baião Mendonça asked the SIC investigator to read his statements before signing them. Here’s what happened: “So began my great torture, right there in the National Police Division in Talatona. I took so many blows to the head from several officers that I lost my senses. I refused to sign it. I ended up not signing anything. The investigator tore up the information he had produced as mine. Finally, we were heard by the prosecutor [José Rodrigues] Cambuta, who formalized our detention.”
The unofficial version
A source close to Bornito de Sousa told Maka Angola that the vice-president was on a private visit to Portugal on the day of the alleged attack. “When we heard about an attack via social media, we initially thought that it had happened in Portugal, where he was. He does not even live there [at the Jardim de Rosas]. He owns the house and goes there from time to time, sporadically,” said the source.
The source went on to say: “The matter is being addressed by SIC and we have tried to get an understanding of what happened. According to the police report, one of the vice-president’s security guards questioned one of the individuals and they fled. The security guard realized that there was something strange and he went to get a gun. By then the [five] men had already been intercepted at the entrance of the condominium. This happened at 10:00 p.m. This is the version we have. We contacted the Interior Ministry and the National Police, and they presented us with this version. To this day, we are waiting to see how SIC is going to investigate the issue. SIC is the one that must clarify what happened. It’s strange that a group of construction workers went to work at the condominium at that time of the day.”
Yet, let us see: according to the initial explanation of the detainees, they were taken to the police station before 6:00 p.m., which refutes the version of the Interior Ministry and the National Police.
Even so, the source linked to Bornito de Sousa was surprised to learn that the five detainees were barbarically tortured with machetes and beaten up by police authorities and SIC.
“There is no activity in the vice-president’s office that corresponds to this attitude. Someone, to justify an excess, some inappropriate behavior, did this. The vice-president has does not behave like this. He is very simple and has nothing to do with this violence,” said the source.
Another government source simply said that the accusation “is fanciful”: “We have heard about it and we do not get involved in such things. We have absolutely nothing to do with this matter. ”
A general, under anonymity, said that he was aggrieved by the way “a misunderstanding because of a parking lot” developed. He emphasized that “these accusations only embarrass the Angolan state, especially the generals who live in the condominium. The accused did not even know who lives there.”
“If the vice-president were at the condominium, these men would not even have been allowed in. He does not live there at all. We must stop inventing these confusions,” asserted the general.
Openly, the relatives of the detainees also said:”My father has been a Jehovah’s witness for many years. He will not even touch a gun. For more than ten years, until 2015, he worked as an electrician at Griner,” explained Estêvão Morais, son of Morais Muxibi.
José Miguel, brother of Pedro Miguel “Baby”, was definitive when stating “the falseness of the accusation”: “My brother was never a soldier to attack a high representative of the nation. How could he do it without military training, without any knowledge about arms, with nothing? An attack at this level would have to involve generals.”
“I live with my brother. We have a very open relationship and he has never had a gun at home. How could he attack the vice-president’s house with a hammer or a machete in his hand, with all the security the vice-president has?”, asked Felipe, Domingos Caputo’s brother. “In the movies there is film editing, special effects. Reality is not like that.”
How can SIC investigate this case with seriousness and transparency, a case in which, using its privileged method – torture with a machete – it has forged evidence?
Investigation published, detainees released
The construction workers, transformed into “commandos”, were released on bail the day the original of this text, in Portuguese, was published.
Yet, the public prosecution trumped up new charges of crime of illegal possession of weapon against the five, thus continue to improvise on the absurdity.