The two survivors of last month’s drive-by murder of 42-year-old Ivorian national Lassana Cisse Souleymane in Ħal Far have spoken out for the first time about their close encounter with death.
Guinean national Bah Ibrahim and Gambian national Mohammed Diallo are friends with each other but weren’t acquainted with Cisse Souleymane. However, they all happened to be walking down Triq il-Ġebel in Birżebbuġa at the same time on the night of April 6th.
Ibrahim and Diallo were walking together, while Cisse Souleymane was walking further behind, on the other side of the road.
“It was after a football match,” Ibrahim recounted to Lovin Malta. “We were on our way back home when I heard a noise that sounded like a shot. I told my friend, but he didn’t believe me and thought it was a firecracker. As we kept on walking, a white car drove in front of us and the man in the car fired two bullets. One hit my left buttocks and another went through my friend’s hips.”
“I did not believe it was a shot at first,” Diallo said. “It was only when I felt a pain in my stomach and saw blood that I believed it.”
“Everything happened very quickly and I didn’t have time to see who had shot me. Once we were at hospital, the police told me three people had been shot but the third person had not survived. I thought it was only Ibrahim and myself, but Lassana was also there and he is dead now.”
It has been just over a month since the murder and police have been tight-lipped about their investigation, not confirming whether they have interrogated any suspects or identified a possible motive behind the killing
However, one popular theory among the African community is that the killing was racially motivated, and the fact that Ibrahim and Diallo hadn’t even known Cisse Souleymane supports this claim.
Indeed, with the killer still on the loose, a climate of fear reigns within Malta’s African community, particularly among Cisse’s friends.
Ladji Kante, who also hails from the Ivory Coast, had travelled with Cisse Souleymane from Libya to Malta by boat back in 2011, and the two friends spent 18 months at the Safi detention centre.
“We have been friends ever since,” he said. “I want to know who shot Lassana and I want to know if it was a Maltese person or not. We want justice because we are afraid for our lives. Yesterday, it was Lassana, but tomorrow, it could be my turn to get shot.”
“I feel afraid of Maltese people, even when walking down the street. When I finish work at 8pm, I go straight home, and when somebody proposes an appointment after 8pm, I propose the day after, during the daytime.”
“The police don’t want to tell us the truth. I’m afraid and I want to leave Malta for good, because I cannot live in a country where the government doesn’t provide help and protection to migrants. It seems like we have no rights.”
Ousmane Dicko, the president of the Ivorian community in Malta and a personal friend of Cisse Souleyamne, said he has advised everyone to go straight home after work.
“We don’t know if the murderer is still in town, if he will shoot again and who it will be this time,” he said. “I have also advised people to try and avoid walking down dark streets if they are going out late in the evening or at night.”
Triq il-Ġebel, which is located right next to the Ħal Far open centre, has reportedly been at the centre of racially motivated attacks in recent months
Some open centre residents have warned that they have stopped walking along that road after hearing about how migrants were pelted with rocks, taunted, threatened and sometimes deliberately run over while waking along it.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat last month pledged that he wants to guarantee the security of African migrants, but has not stated what action he intends to take. He has also warned against speculation that it was a racially motivated murder, arguing that doing so will only ferment anti-migrant discourse.
Lassana Cisse Souleymane leaves behind a wife, an 18-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son, all of whom live in the Ivory Coast.
Clarisse Bolonga is a visiting journalist working on the case of Lassana Cisse Souleymane. If you have any useful information, please email [email protected]