Togo’s military says one of its aircraft accidentally targeted and killed seven teenagers in the country’s north, mistaking them for Islamist militants, who were initially suspected in the attack.
Togo’s armed forces spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Sama Sousso, in a statement read Thursday night on state Togolese Television (TVT) and carried live on their YouTube channel, confirmed the military accidentally killed seven teenagers.
He says the military expresses its profound regret in the face of the incident and says everything possible will be done to prevent this sort of tragedy from happening again.
Togo’s army chief of staff, General Dadja Maganawe, in a written statement, said an aircraft had wrongly targeted the civilians in the village of Margba, in the northern Savanes Region’s Tone prefecture.
The statement said the army had intelligence indicating an imminent threat of infiltration by armed groups wanting to attack local communities.
Local media initially blamed the early Sunday morning blast on an improvised explosive device, pointing the suspicion at Islamist militants.
The victims, instead, were teenagers on their way home from celebrating Eid-al-Adha, Islam’s festival of sacrifice, known in the Wolof language as Tabaski.
Michel Douti, an independent security expert working with Togo’s Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Prevention and Fight Against Violent Extremism (CIPLEV), praised the army for taking responsibility.
He says it was an act of courage, an act of braveness, an act of transparency, an act caused by the desire and the obligation to be accountable and show what the army is doing in the fight against violent extremism.
Togo declared a state of emergency in the Savanes Region in June after Islamist militants attacked near the border with Burkina Faso, killing eight troops and wounding 13.
An al-Qaida-affiliated group fighting in Burkina Faso and Mali claimed responsibility for the attack.
They were the first recorded deaths from terrorism in Togo, a country of 8 million people on West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea.