Maputo — Armed criminals attacked a police car in downtown Maputo on Monday, and released the two men which it was carrying to an interrogation in a nearby police station.
The attack took place at around midday in the narrow Rua de Imprensa, at a time when the whole area is normally swarming with people.
Eye-witnesses, cited by the independent television station STV, said that the gang used a Toyota Runex to block the police car, a Land Cruiser, when it was stopped at a set of traffic lights. Two of the criminals, wearing hoods, jumped out of the car, and used AK-47 assault rifles to shoot out the tyres of the police vehicle.
The two policemen in the car then fled, allowing the gang to rescue the two criminals without hindrance.
According to Maputo City police spokesperson, Orlando Mudumane, the two prisoners in the car were men who had been convicted of murder and kidnapping and who, for the past three years, have been serving their sentences in cells in the Maputo Police command. He did not reveal their names.
But, according to Tuesday's issue of the independent newssheet “Mediafax”, one of them is Jose Aly Coutinho, one of the three men accused of the murder last year of prominent Maputo prosecutor Marcelino Vinanculos. His case had not yet come to trial. The paper named the other escapee as Alfredo Jose Muchanga.
This is the second time Muchanga has escaped. The first was in February 2015, when he, and two other inmates, used a saw to cut through the bars on the window in a bathroom in a Maputo prison, and then attacked a guard, seizing his AK-47. They shot the guard with his own gun, seriously injuring him, before making their getaway.
Mudumane said the two men were being taken in a car belonging to the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC), to answer questions about earlier attempts to escape.
“They have tried, more than once, to sabotage the security system in the top security cells”, he said, “and so they were being taken to the police station for questioning”.
Mudumane said the police priority now is to find the escapees, so that they can explain how the escape was organized, and then return them to the cells “which they should never have left”.
The circumstances of the escape are highly suspicious. First, there is no reason for highly dangerous criminals to leave their cells to attend an interrogation. The police can come to them, which Mudumane clearly believed they should have done. Second, standard practice when moving criminals is that the PIC car would be accompanied by another police vehicle. But on this occasion the two PIC officers were left alone to transport the criminals.
And third, the gang who sprang Coutinho and Muchanga from the car must have known when they were being moved and the route they would take. This means either that the two convicts had access to a cell phone, or that someone inside the police command tipped the gang off.
Marcelino Vilanculos was murdered outside his home in the city of Matola on 11 April 2016. In August three men were arrested, and charged with the murder. One of the three, Abdul Tembe, who allegedly drove the car used by the hit squad, escaped from Maputo central prison on 24 October.
This led to the arrests of the director of the prison, Castigo Machaieie, and eight other prison staff.
With Monday's escape of Coutinho, only one of the three original suspects. Amade Antonio, is still in detention.
In December, the Attorney-General's Office announced that three more people had been charged with the murder, but did not name them. Two of the suspects, both men, were still at large, while the third, a woman, was in custody.
The motive for the murder of Vilanculos is not known, but he had a reputation for integrity, and was investigating sensitive cases, including some of the kidnappings of businessmen that have plagued Mozambican cities since 2011.