CONTENT PREVIEW
Terrorism & Insurgency

Attack on Ethiopian PM’s rally unlikely an assassination attempt, but indicates increased violence risk from hostile elements

25 June 2018
Ethiopian police intervene during a rally in support of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, after a grenade blast in Meskel Square, Addis Ababa, on 23 June. Source: Yonas Tadesse/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • The grenade attack on the rally was more likely an attempt to embarrass Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, including by seeking to trigger a stampede, rather than an assassination attempt against him personally.
  • The government’s response to the attack signals a suspicion that elements of the security services were involved in orchestration of the attack, and of their intending to skew the attack investigation to conclusions that are politically damaging to the prime minister.
  • Political enemies and security services’ elements opposed to Ahmed’s policy agenda will likely continue to regard assassination as a more viable means of his forced removal rather than a coup attempt, although increased security around the prime minister will likely militate against the possibility of this succeeding.

Event

At least two people were killed and 150 wounded in a grenade attack on a rally in support of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on 23 June, with turnout for the rally estimated by the government at between 4 to 5 million.

State media reported that 30 people had been arrested by 24 June on suspicion of involvement in the grenade attack, including police officers. The council of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party attributed the attack to "anti-peace forces" who opposed the government’s recent "development, peace and democratic reforms".

Unlikely an assassination attempt

Although Ethiopian authorities have claimed the attack was an assassination attempt against Ahmed, we assess that he is unlikely to have been the primary target. There are three key considerations that militate against it having been an assassination attempt:

  • The attack took place just after Ahmed had finished addressing the crowd, and after he had returned to his seat, whereas an assassination attempt would more likely have been launched before or at the start of his speech;
  • The attack did not hit the stage itself (although reports have claimed police were already struggling with the assailant when the explosion occurred), and took place on the opposite side to where Ahmed was seated; and
  • Only one grenade was used in the attack, whereas an assassination attempt would likely have involved some co-ordinated weapons back-up to a single grenade.

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