[WATCH] AFM soldiers to be charged with Ivorian’s cold-blooded murder, PM: ‘Strong signal to those who spread hate’

One man admits to racially motivated murder and attempted murder of two others • Second man arrested • AFM soldiers linked to hit-and-run of Chadian three months earlier

Lorin Scicluna (left) and Francesco Fenech (right) have been arrested in connection with the murder of Lassane Cisse Souleymane
Lorin Scicluna (left) and Francesco Fenech (right) have been arrested in connection with the murder of Lassane Cisse Souleymane

Updated with Prime Minister's reaction and statements from NGOs and Arnold Cassola

Two soldiers in the Armed Forces of Malta have been arrested in connection with the murder of the Ivorian national Lassana Cisse Souleyman, 42, and attempted murder of two other men on 6 April, 2019, in Hal Far.

Sources have confirmed that the two men are Francesco Fenech of Zejtun, who joined the army in 2018, and Lorin Scicluna, of Paola.

Lassane Cisse Souleyman, 42, was murdered in cold blood near Birzebbugia
Lassane Cisse Souleyman, 42, was murdered in cold blood near Birzebbugia

The victims were walking from Birzebbugia and into Hal Far on the Triq tal-Gebel at 11pm when shots were fired from a car, suspected to be a white Toyota Starlet.

The other two victims were a 22-year-old from Guinea and a 28-year-old from Gambia. All three were migrant workers.

Police have a confession in their hands that connects one AFM soldier to the attempted murder of another man, three months earlier: a 17-year-old migrant from Chad, May Malimi, run over in a deliberate hit-and-run and left unconscious by the side of the same road.

Ivorian Lassane Cisse Souleymane, a father of three, was killed on the spot after being shot in the head on Saturday, 6 April at 11pm. The two other injured men, both from Ghana, were found a short distance away from the victim.

Triq il-Ġebel is a country lane, that connects Hal Far road with the centre of Birżebbuġa. It is commonly used by residents at the Hal Far open centre to reach Birżebbuġa. All three were residents of the migrants’ open centre in Hal Far.

Joseph Muscat: Migrant murder arrests signal to those who spread hate

It is the first serious case of racially motivated murder to have occurred in cold blood in Malta.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat thanked the Maltese police force for their work. "The two persons arrested do not represent the ethos of the Armed Forces of Malta," he said in a series of tweets. 

"There is an ongoing internal investigation along with other security services, to determine whether these are isolated, rogue individuals, or part of something wider. The conclusion of this investigation shows that Malta is a safe place for everyone, and it should remain so. Words of hatred and division have no place in our society. It is a strong signal to all those who spread hate speech.There are consequences to spreading such ill-placed sentiments. We remain steadfast in our call for unity among the Maltese and all those who live in Malta."

Opposition leader Adrian Delia, who condemned all hate crime and racially motivated violence, however said that much work had yet to be done to make Malta a truly safe place. He also congraulated the Maltese police force.

Commissioner of Police Lawrence Cutajar told MaltaToday that investigations had been intensive from the first day, and that this success was down to better coordination between the police force's specialised units and district police.

Investigations of CCTV footage from the area was analysed by police, leading to the identification of the car which was traced back to two people. 

Both men are Armed Forces of Malta soldiers, but it is yet unclear what their rank is and where they have been stationed.

The first man was arrested on Friday evening and was said to have confessed to having been in the car but not doing the actual shooting. He also admitted to having been behind the hit-and-run of the Chadian migrant, and admitted to doing it because the man was black. The second person is yet to be apprehended.

Both the car and the weapon are now in the police's possession.

An internal investigation is now expected to take place in the Armed Forces of Malta to determine whether the two men are part of a wider circle of people inside the AFM.

NGOs had warned that Malta would have to face up to what was an act of terror if the murder of the 42-year-old Ivorian Lassine Souleymane turn out to have been racially motivated. “We caution that, should it emerge that this was, in fact, a racially-motivated incident, Malta would be called upon to face far more than an act of assault, but far graver crime aimed at instilling terror in entire communities.”

Migrants who live in the area and elsewhere in Malta were said to have been living in fear at the possibility of the crime being racially motivated: police had feared copycat killings or a violent response from the migrant community.

Souleyman, 42, was described as a Good Samaritan by friends whom he had helped in their integration upon arriving in Malta.

The three men had been walking home after watching a football match between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in Birzebbuga, when they heard loud bangs.

The two survivors had told The Times they thought nothing of it.

The man from Gambia, Mohammed, recalled the shooting pain as the bullet entered one hip and exited the other one before he collapsed to the ground. In front of him, Ibrahim, “stretched out his arm, leaned against the wall and slid down as he called a friend to tell him they had been shot.”

The two victims are legally residents of Italy, and have been unable to work or return to Italy to renew their documentation. Mohammed was living in a room he shared with five others, and has since lost his home because he could not afford the €100 monthly rent.

The 17-year-old from Chad, May Malimi, who was hit by a car and left unconscious on the side of Triq il-Ġebel with a fractured collarbone, had been found hours later “in a pool of blood” by two Somali men, who took him to the Hal Far open centre.

Malimi said he was hit from the back and pushed to the ground while walking on the side of the road.

Act of violence which chills every one of us - NGOs

In a statement issued by the Aditus Foundation, Integra Foundation and JRS Malta following the news of the arrest, the NGOs commended the work carried out by the police force to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice.

"We are both relieved and angered to receive news of the arrest of 1 suspect for the murder and attack that occurred in Hal Far last month and hope the second will be captured as soon as possible," the NGOs said.

“Lassana was specifically targeted and murdered in cold blood because of his colour. This was a racially motivated hate crime, an act of violence that must send a shudder through the body of every one of us."

The NGOs also said that they hoped the arrest would bring some element of closure to Lassana's family.

"We hope that this arrest will bring some peace of mind to the family of Lassana, and also to Mohamed and Ibrahim, the two survivors who are still coming to terms with what happened to them, and who may never recover from this vicious attack."

“Hate festers and betrays us all, including the perpetrators of this despicable and senseless act of violence,” they added, as they urged the authorities, and everyone, to prevent hate crime now and in the future.

Shocking news - Arnold Cassola

Independent MEP candidate Arnold Cassola said that the implication of two members of the AFM in the murder, and in the injury of two other migrants had come as “shocking news to all of us.”

“Bad apples exist everywhere and anytime, but having two soldiers - whose mission is to protect all of us - consciously involved in hate actions and killings is really too much to digest,” Cassola said.

He said that politicians who had fanned racial hatred through their white supremacy views or apartheid proposals “have a lot to answer for.”

“In the meantime, my thanks and gratitude goes to all the law abiding and peace loving members of our armed forces, who are there daily to protect us all from the hatred that a small minority has propagated,” Cassola added.

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