MASERU — Police have identified fugitive Makotoko Lerotholi, as the mastermind of last Wednesday’s foiled assassination attempt on Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.
Lerotholi, a former army officer, was one of six men who fled the country in June 2007 after being accused of trying to topple the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) government.
The six men were alleged to have attacked ministers’ houses and guards.
They were accused of treason, illegal possession of arms and robbery.
Three of the fugitives willingly returned to Lesotho earlier this year but Lerotholi remained holed up in South Africa while the state battled to have him extradited.
Police say investigations have revealed that Lerotholi could have been the brains behind the group of men who attacked the State House – Mosisili’s home – last Wednesday.
“Our initial investigations show that Lerotholi was one of the men who launched the attack,” said police spokesperson Pheello Mphana.
“Those people we have in custody have indentified him. Some of our soldiers and police identified him during the shoot-out in Kubetsoana.”
The men — suspected to be hired foreign mercenaries mostly from Mozambique — captured six army officers at Makoenyane Barracks, stole a Land Rover and an armoured car before launching the attack on the State House in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
After being repelled by State House guards the mercenaries fled to Ha-Thetsane where they abandoned their Land Rover and hijacked a minibus taxi to continue their flight.
A combined operation of the police and soldiers caught up with them at Khubetsoena where a fierce gun battle ensued, leaving three of the mercenaries dead.
Another man was later killed as he was trying to cross Mohakare River into South Africa.
A South African indentified as Chauke Mabaso from Polokwane was arrested together with a Mozambican men whose identity police could not reveal at the time of going to press last night.
Police said Chauke was arrested in Hamakebe, a village along the Mohakare River.
The villagers alerted the police when Chauke approached them asking for food and water.
During interrogation, police said, Chauke said he had not had anything to eat in three days.
Police said their investigations have revealed that Chauke could have been involved in other criminal activities in Polokwane before he was recruited for the mission.
He told the police that he was not aware that he was being recruited for a mercenary mission in Lesotho.
The Mozambican told the police that he had been told that he was being recruited for a construction job.
He told the police during interrogation that he was not aware that he was in Lesotho when he was caught on Thursday.
Three police officers from Mozambique arrived in Lesotho last Friday to help with investigations.
They interviewed one of the Mozambicans.
However they could not say with certainty that the man was from Mozambique because he did not have any form of identification.
The officers left Lesotho on Sunday.
The two men also told the police that they had been promised R500 000 for the mission.
Police recovered 11 AK47 soft rifles, two RF rifles, one R5 rifle and an oozy.
“We also found military fatigues but we don’t know any country that uses such uniforms,” said Mphana.
South African police also arrested seven men who are suspected to have been part of the attack.
SA Police Service Director Sally de Beer said: “Two South Africans were arrested yesterday (Wednesday) morning, four Mozambicans yesterday evening, and another, whose nationality is unknown, early on Thursday.”
As investigations continue startling details of how the men stole the vehicles at Makoenyane Barracks have emerged.
Contrary to earlier reports that alleged the mercenaries had attacked the main gate at the Makoenyane Barracks, the army says the men actually sneaked into the barracks.
Army spokesperson Lieutenant Mathanzima Taneso said the six Lesotho Defence Force members were captured while in their office inside the barracks.
“The soldiers were captured at the transport office at the barracks. We are still investigating how these men got in,” Taneso said.
At the gates mercenaries used one of the LDF soldiers they had captured to talk to the guards.
“The guards did not suspect anything because one of their own (soldier) said everything was normal. They let them pass,” he said.
The police said they were getting help in the investigations from two experts from France’s Interpol department.
The two officers who arrived in the country on Monday are experts in terrorism and organised crime.