ZIMBABWE state security agents laid a trap for the 67 suspected mercenaries arrested in Harare on Sunday on their way to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to stage a military coup against President
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, it has emerged.
Official sources said yesterday security operatives, who included the Central Intelligence Organisation, Military Intelligence (MI) and the police, worked with the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) to net the alleged soldiers of fortune who face the death penalty if convicted.
The ZDI, which sells military equipment, reportedly “sold” the mercenaries a consignment of AK-47 assault rifles, mortars and 30 000 rounds of ammunition for US$188 000. It is said ZDI general manager Colonel Tshinga Dube was aware of the transaction as it was part of the trap.
“We trapped them because we knew their plans well beforehand,” a senior government official said. “The three other men (Simon Mann and his two colleagues) who were already in the country were under constant surveillance. The trap involved South African intelligence.”
South Africa has confirmed that President Thabo Mbeki alerted Obiang, who overthrew his president-for-life uncle Francisco Macias Nguema in 1979, of the coup plot. This led to the arrest of 15 mercenaries in Malabo on Tuesday, described as an advance party of those detained in Harare.
The mercenaries were arrested on Sunday evening after a United States-registered plane which formerly belonged to the American airforce was impounded with 64 passengers on board. The plane was detained at Manyame Airbase together with the 67 suspected mercenaries in total.
Sources said government would use immigration legislation which allows it to detain for at least two weeks people who enter the country illegally while it investigates the mercenaries.
Police spokesman Wayne Bvu-dzijena said the mercenaries were likely to appear in court next week.
However, acting attorney-gen-eral Bharat Patel said the suspects could appear in court today or tomorrow. He said they would be charged under Zimbabwe’s aviation, firearms and immigration laws.
Mann and an associate named Nicholas Du Toit were in Zimbabwe in February for the purchase of military hardware. Mann then came back with two colleagues on March 5. Someone identified as Simon Witherspoon was linked to the group.
Mann is an ex-Royal Scots Guard and troop commander with the elite British Special Air Services (SAS). He also worked for the notorious South African mercenaries firm, Executive Outcomes which was absorbed in 1998 into the British private military company, Sandline International.
Du Toit and Witherspoon work-ed for the South African Defence Forces and Executive Outcomes, popularly known as the “Dogs of Diamond”.
This week Du Toit appeared on state television in Equatorial Guinea claiming to be the leader of the group whose mission was to abduct Obiang and force him into exile.
“It wasn’t a question of taking the life of the head of state, but of forcing him into exile and then installing the government in exile of (rebel leader) Severo Moto Nsa,” he said.
Executives Outcomes mercenaries have worked with Sandline in Africa, Asia and South America. They have been paid millions of United States dollars, including US$35,2 million for restoring Sierra Leone president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah who was deposed by rebels in 1995.
The outfit is part of a complex web of private military companies and global conglomerates linked to Western governments scrambling for mostly mineral resources in developing countries.
Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi has said information extracted from Mann showed the arrested men were collaborating with the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency, Britain’s MI6 and the Spanish Special Services in their mission.
Mohadi said the mercenaries wanted to install Moto Nsa in power.
He said Mann was promised £1 million and oil mining concessions in the Malabo Islands.
Equatorial Guinea has petroleum, timber, unexploited deposits of gold, manganese and uranium.
The plane, which was sold last week by Dodson Aviation to Logo Ltd of South Africa, was seized after it landed at Harare International Airport with a false declaration of crew and cargo. Initially the plane’s destination had been given as either the DRC, Burundi or Ethiopia.
The aircraft reportedly flew from Sao Tome and Principe – where US soldiers were said to be currently training – on March 7 with an American crew to South Africa where it picked up the arrested mercenaries.
In South Africa, it took off at Lanseria Airport on Sunday, landed at Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria where Dodson International (SA), a subsidiary of Dodson Aviation, sellers of the plane, is based and then proceeded to Pietersburg International Airport. From there it came to Zimbabwe where it was impounded.