By Neeraj Gangal
Attack kills team bus driver and wounds nine others, including two players.
Gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Togo's national football squad to the top African tournament in Angola on Friday, killing the driver and wounding nine others, including two players, a Togo team official said.
The bus had just entered the Angolan enclave of Cabinda, where separatists have waged a three-decade long war, when it came under heavy gunfire for several minutes, he said. An Angolan minister called the attack an "act of terrorism".
Many of the players at the tournament are with clubs at the top level of European football including Cameroon forward Samuel Eto'o of Inter Milan, Chelsea's Ivory Coast striker Dider Drogba and Manchester City's Emmanuel Adebayor who was African Footballer of the Year last year.
The separatist group the Front for the Liberation of Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC) claimed responsibility for the attack, which happened two days before the start of the 2010 African Nations Cup, Africa's most-followed sporting event.
"This operation is just the start of a series of planned actions that will continue to take place in the whole territory of Cabinda," said the statement seen by Reuters and signed by FLEC's secretary general Rodrigues Mingas.
The organisers, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), said the tournament would still go ahead despite the attack.
"Our first priority is the safety of the players but the tournament will go ahead," CAF spokesman Suleimanu Habubu said in Luanda.
CAF earlier said it would send a senior official to Cabinda on Saturday to assess the situation. The tournament is set to run from Jan. 10-31.
"The response from the (police) escort meant the damage was limited and there are now nine injured people in hospital," Winny Dogbatse, a senior Togo official told Reuters TV.
Togo striker Thomas Dossevi told French radio how he and his teammates cowered on board the bus during the sustained attack.
"We had crossed the border about five minutes before and the bus was fired on for a good quarter of an hour. We protected ourselves as best we could," he told France Info.
"I am shocked, it's a serious thing for me because we are only there to play football, that's all we are doing and we find ourselves being shot at and we don't know why."
"ACT OF TERRORISM"
Host nation Angola had hoped the tournament would showcase how well it had recovered from decades of civil war.
Antonio Bento Bembe, the Angolan minister in charge of affairs in Cabinda, an oil producing region that has in the past been targeted by FLEC, said: "This was an act of terrorism."
However, Bento Bembe told Reuters it was not the work of FLEC rebels. "FLEC no longer exists, the attack comes from certain individuals who want to cause problems for us," he said.
Cabinda is a small enclave separated from the rest of Angola by a strip of land belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The roots of the conflict between the government and FLEC are deep but one of the main grievances is that Cabindans see few benefits from the oil produced from their land.
The French foreign ministry condemned the attack and called for the perpetrators to be found and brought to justice.
Soccer's world governing body FIFA offered its "utmost sympathy" to the Togo team after the attack.
Togo were due to play Ghana on Monday, one of six group matches and one quarter-final scheduled to be played there.
Two Togolese who play in the English premiership, Aston Villa midfielder Moustapha Salifou and Adebayor, were unhurt, their teams' websites said.
Salifou was quoted as saying: "I am okay but extremely shocked and very upset."
French sports daily L'Equipe's Web site www.lequipe.fr said the wounded players were Serge Akakpo, who plays for Romanian first division side Vaslui, and reserve goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale, who is with French fourth division team Pontivy.
The other casualties were training, medical and administrative staff.
Five members of the Sri Lankan cricket team were wounded in March 2008 when gunmen attacked their bus en route to a match in the Pakistani city of Lahore, raising concerns about sports teams being targets for violent militants. (Reuters)