MASERU — As the state battles to kick-start the trial of men arrested over the attacks on Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s official residence and an army base, shocking details surrounding the suspected coup attempt have emerged.
The suspected insurgents could have taken advantage of a lax security situation and received inside help to carry out the attacks on April 22 last year.
The trial of two of the men arrested in connection with the attacks failed to take off on Tuesday because the state is still waiting for the extradition of seven other suspects held in South Africa.
The suspects detained in Bloemfontein have appealed against a South African court’s decision to extradite them to Lesotho to face charges related to the attacks.
Four of the assailants were killed when Lesotho’s armed forces repelled the attacks while the chief suspect, Makotoko “Mashai” Lerotholi, died while awaiting extradition from South Africa last October.
In the meantime, the Sunday Express can exclusively reveal that the security system at State House was tampered with 15 minutes before the suspected insurgents launched their attack.
The startling revelation is contained in a report by a commission established by the government to probe the attacks.
Former Lesotho Court of Appeal president, Jan Steyn, headed the commission which heard evidence from the police, intelligence officers and the army from January 18 to April 16 this year.
At the end of the inquiry, the commission issued a report with scant details because some of the information gathered was classified.
That report had no more than 12 pages.
The Sunday Express can however reveal that it now has the more detailed 95-page report which sheds more light on how security personnel at State House and Makoanyane Military Base could have abetted the attacks.
Details that were considered to be too confidential to compromise the security of the country are contained in chapter three of the report which the authors deleted.
Yet, even without that chapter, the report still tells a story of security personnel who went to sleep on that fateful night.
It tells a story of a security system that was easily breached by a band of poorly-trained and ill-equipped insurgents.
It also reveals that more than seven months before the incident security intelligence services had warned of a possible attack on the country but no concrete contingency measures were taken.
But perhaps the most damning finding is that the CCTV system installed at State House in 2006 was actually manipulated by someone from within the security services 15 minutes before the attack.
“There is evidence on record which confirms that there was a manual manipulation of a circuit breaker switch that completely shut down the CCTV surveillance system,” the report says.
“This happened some 15 minutes before the attack on the State House occurred.”
It adds: “None of the cameras on the other components of the surveillance equipment operated at the time of the attack.”
It says this was due to “a person or persons depressing the switch from an ‘on’ into an ‘off’ position”.
This was clearly done deliberately to facilitate the attack, the report further says.
The report says there is evidence that one army officer at State House left the door to the CCTV control room open on the night of the attack.
“He either did so negligently or deliberately,” the report says.
“The inference that (he) did so deliberately can certainly prima facie be drawn from the evidence as adduced before us.”
The implicated officer denied that he left the door to the control room open and that he knew the password to the surveillance system.
But the report says his evidence was contradicted by the testimonies that the commission gathered from witnesses who included an officer who used to operate the system and officials from Afrisec, the company that used to service the system.
“We recommend that a thorough investigation be undertaken in order to confirm our view that (he) has a case to answer and there is prima facie evidence which, if accepted, would lead to the inference that he was involved in the planning and/or execution of the attack on the State House,” the reports says.
“Alternatively, that in the breach of his duty he negligently facilitated the attack by his conduct in leaving the control room door open in a position that allowed access to the system.”
The report also says when the insurgents left State House they went back to Makoanyane Military Base, where they had earlier hijacked two army vehicles, robbed guns and kidnapped some soldiers.
The report says as the insurgents approached the barrack’s gate two senior officers ordered the soldiers to shoot but they refused to follow the order.
One of the senior officers, the report reveals, warned the guards that if they didn’t shoot at the insurgents they would be court-martialled.
In desperation he grabbed a rifle from one of the guards who was refusing to shoot and fired at the insurgents, the report says.
The commission however praises some of the soldiers who acted decisively during the attack.
For instance, the report says the senior soldiers who fired at the insurgents when they went to the base for the second time deserved accolades.
So do the other soldiers who escaped after they were captured by the insurgents and rushed to raise alarm.
The report is also full of praises for the guards at State House who fought hard to parry the insurgents.
Because of their courageous actions, the report says, the guards actually saved the country.
“Sergeant … at State House, the SSU team that terminated the insurgency all showed that the army has men of whom Lesotho can be justly proud,” the report says.
“Their conduct is also testimony of the loyalty of the armed forces and their LMPS (Lesotho Mounted Police Service) colleagues.”