Interim Mali President Assimi Goita, a special forces colonel who orchestrated two coups in the last year, said he escaped unharmed after an assailant tried to stab him during prayers at a mosque in the capital Bamako on Tuesday.
Security agents overpowered two men in the mosque and threw one into the back of a military pickup truck, video showed, as Goita, dressed in a sky blue embroidered robe, was ringed by bodyguards.
The president’s office said investigations were ongoing. It did not immediately advance a motive for the attack, which occurred during services marking the Muslim Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) holiday at Bamako’s Grand Mosque.
Mali, the theatre of French-supported operations against al Qaeda and Islamic State-linked insurgents for a decade, was thrown into political turmoil after a military junta led by Goita toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020.
Goita served as vice-president to transitional leader Bah Ndaw until the latter’s ouster in May.
“Everything is fine, there is no problem. It’s part of being a leader,” Goita told state television hours after the attack. “There are always people who are unhappy. There are people who will try to destabilise.”
He described the attack as “an isolated action”. State television showed himlater receiving well-wishers dressed in the same clothes he had on at the mosque.
Prime Minister Choguel Maiga, who was sitting near Goita at the time of the attack, told state television that a man wielding a knife had approached the interim leader at the end of the prayer and attempted to stab him in the neck.
“As you know the interim president is an officer of the special forces, and I believe his instinct helped prevent the aggressor from reaching his objective,” Maiga said.
He added that the 38-year-old Goita and his security guards had kept their calm during the incident.
Despite initial condemnation of the May coup by Western allies like France, which is seeking to end its military mission in West Africa’s Sahel region, Goita was sworn in as interim president last month.
He has promised to oversee a transition that will lead to democratic elections.