Guinea's escaped ex-junta leader is back in custody after "kidnapping" - lawyer

By Saliou Samb and Souleymane Camara

CONAKRY (Reuters) -Guinea's former military ruler, Moussa Dadis Camara, is back in custody, his lawyer said on Saturday, denying Camara was a willing participant in an earlier armed jailbreak that he described as a kidnapping by force.

Residents of the capital Conakry woke up to the sound of gunfire in the early hours of Saturday as heavily armed men sprang Camara and three other officers out of a central prison, prompting the Guinean authorities to launch a nationwide manhunt.

In a post on social media on Saturday afternoon, Camara's lawyer Pepe Antoine Lamah said Camara was back in Conakry's Central House prison.

He did not share details on how his client had returned to custody, but accused the government of failing to protect its detainees.

"Camara was indeed kidnapped this morning very early by heavily armed individuals who forced him into a vehicle," he said. "It is ... unacceptable and even inappropriate to classify a kidnapping as an escape."

The authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The general prosecutor earlier said it had opened an investigation against Camara and the others involved in what it called a jailbreak.

The whereabouts of the other officers were not immediately known.

The search for them has gripped the capital, with soldiers patrolling the streets in armoured personnel carriers, while armed officers stopped and searched passing cars.

Earlier residents described hearing the rattle of gunfire in the early hours from the Kaloum administrative district, where Camara and the others were held in the Central House prison.

"There was dread, anxiety stress ... fear in our hearts. Everyone was scared and wondering what was going on," said Conakry local Mamadou Aliou Tham.

The incident highlights the fragile security situation in Guinea, which is ruled by another military junta that seized power in a coup in 2021 - one of eight such takeovers in West and Central Africa in the last three years.

Camara and others have been on trial since last year, accused of orchestrating a stadium massacre and mass rape by Guinean security forces in which 150 people were killed during a pro-democracy rally on Sept. 28, 2009.

Camara has denied responsibility, blaming the atrocities on errant soldiers.

He led a 2008 military coup and ruled Africa's largest bauxite exporter for almost a year until he was wounded in a December 2009 assassination attempt.

He remains popular in the southeast, although his reputation was tarnished by the massacre. Survivors and family members had hoped the trial would bring them long-awaited justice.

(writing by Alessandra Prentice; editing by Jason Neely, Alexandra Hudson and Giles Elgood)