Senegal: Video shows two men shooting at protesters in Dakar
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Footage posted online on March 6 shows two men in civilian clothes chasing a group of protesters in the centre of Dakar, Senegal, and firing at them with live ammunition. The incident took place the day before. Widespread protests have swept Senegal after opposition politician Ousmane Sonko was incarcerated on March 3.
The video, which is 1 min 37 seconds in length, was filmed on the corner of Galandou Diouf Street and Dr Thèze Street in the Plateau neighbourhood in the capital. Though this video first appeared online on March 6, our team contacted a shopkeeper who works on the same street, who said that the incident actually took place the day before – early in the afternoon on March 5.
Sometimes old footage pops up online and people mistake it for recent events. However, some of the protesters in the footage were wearing masks, which is another indication that the video was filmed recently – at least during the pandemic, pointed out our colleagues at French magazine Jeune Afrique. Official reports published on March 7 indicate that four people died during these protests.
Who were these armed men?
The video shows two men wearing civilian clothes. One carries a shotgun, while the other carries an assault rifle. The man with the shotgun, who is wearing a dark blue jacket, fires at least four shots at the level of a human being. At 10 seconds in, a cartridge falls to the ground after a shot is fired.
According to a ballistics expert who spoke with our team, the shotgun could have been used to fire either real or rubber bullets. However, the assault rifle carried by the other man, wearing a white T-shirt and a bullet-proof vest, is only used to fire live ammunition. The gun is likely a HK-G36, which is used by the Senegalese Army. At 40 seconds, you can see this man fire twice. The first time, he shoots at human height, the second time he shoots at the ground.
'Police officers aren’t supposed to intervene and fire at the crowd'
Several media outlets and organisations reported that "nervis” had infiltrated the protesters. Nervis refer to civilians armed with batons who work alongside the police – like hired thugs. During the protest, these men were observed hitting demonstrators. However, the two armed men in the video look more like police officers in civilian clothes, according to Sadikh Niass, the general secretary of an organisation called the Rencontre africaine pour la défense des droits de l’Homme (or Radhho). The name translates roughly to the “African meeting for the defense of human rights”.
We noticed two groups of people at these protests, the "nervis", who were armed with batons and working alongside the police, and armed men who took advantage of the chaos in order to loot. However, the men in the video are most likely police in civilian clothes, as the Minister of the Interior himself confirmed that there were undercover police at the protests.
I think that these undercover police officers shouldn’t carry firearms because their role, in theory, is to be discreet in order to identify protesters. They aren’t supposed to intervene and fire at protesters. That said, we can’t exclude the possibility that the police have recruited armed militias. All of these possibilities are worrying and we are calling for the immediate launch of an investigation to shine light on these incidents.
On Tuesday, March 9, the Movement to Defend Democracy (M2D), the organisation that coordinated the protests, announced a “pause” in the movement after opposition politician Ousmane Sonko was liberated and President Macky Sall called for calm.