A group of gun-wielding men seen shooting rubber bullets and teargas at unarmed protesters in Serrekunda and Bakoteh are officers of the Gambia’s Police Criminal Investigation, a police spokesman has confirmed.
Assistant Suprintendent of Police (ASP) Lamin Njie said the officers were deployed to help secure lives and properties.
Gambian authorities have come under criticism for deploying armed plainclothes officers to the streets last week to deal with angry protesters who had stormed two police stations to demand answers about the death of a local store owner, Ousman Darboe, who died shortly after his release from police custody.
Darboe was picked up and detained by detectives investigating a burglary in Kerr Sering village. Police said he was charged with handling stolen goods after a flat screen TV from the burglary was found in his shop.
Police added that some suspects lifted for the burglary had admitted the offence and selling the TV to Darboe.
They said Darboe, an asthma patient, was charged and released within the constitutionally mandated 72 hours.
However, Darboe’s relatives said he was detained for days and tortured resulting in his death shortly after his release.
And as news of his death reaches town, thousands of youths took to the streets, set fire and looted the house of the police anti crime unit’s boss.
The youths also stormed Bakoteh and Serrekunda Police Stations were they damaged police vehicles, files, office equipment and freed prisoners in the cells. They also set up barricades and set tyres and threw missiles at riot officers.
But as the criticism of the plainclothes officers intensified with some people even describing them as pro-government militias, ASP Njie said the alarming descriptions and noises are all borne out of misconceptions and ignorance of the operations of the police.
“There is no militia or civilian armed group working with the police and there is no cause for alarm. All of them are police officers,” he told the independent Standard Newspaper.
He added: “The men are bonafide members of the CID of the police anti- crime unit who were deployed to help in preventing more chaos and safeguarding lives and properties when the situation got very serious on that day.”
“They did not have any bad intentions. The police have different branches namely Prosecution, General duties, Traffic PIU, and CIDs, etc and it is common knowledge that CIDs don’t go in uniforms.