Rebel East Timorese soldiers invaded the homes of the President and Prime Minister of East Timor on 11 February 2008, leading to the shooting and serious wounding of President José Ramos-Horta, the shooting up of the car of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão, and the fatal shooting of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado. The attacks have been variously interpreted as attempted assassinations, attempted kidnappings and an attempted coup d'état. The rebels' intentions remain unknown.
After being hospitalised in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, for more than a month, Ramos-Horta was discharged from hospital on 19 March but remained in Darwin until April for continued treatment.
Events began before dawn when rebel soldiers led by Alfredo Reinado entered the residential compound of President José Ramos-Horta in the capital Dili. They disarmed the security detail on duty and entered the compound. Ramos-Horta was not there, being out jogging on the beach. The second security team, arriving to relieve the night team, saw Renaido in the house and opened fire, killing him with a shot to the head. Another rebel, Leopoldino Mendonça Exposto, was also killed.
Ramos-Horta was alerted of the gunfight but walked back up the hill to his home. Reinado's men opened fire on him as he approached his home. One of Ramos-Horta's guards pushed in front of him as a human shield. The guard was shot and taken to a hospital in serious condition. The surviving rebels fled the scene.
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão was alerted to the attack on the presidential home and left his home by car for Dili. A group of rebel soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Gastão Salsinha invaded Gusmão's home, finding Gusmão's wife Kirsty and children but not Gusmão. Another party of rebels shot out the tires of Gusmão's car on its way to Dili, but the car continued for some distance before Gusmão, unhurt,abandoned it and ran into the bush to call for help.
Gusmão declared a 48-hour state of emergency, including a curfew and a ban on conducting meetings or rallies,and described the events as an attempted coup. Ramos-Horta was evacuated to Darwin, Australia, for emergency surgery.
Ramos-Horta had met Reinado several times in the months before the attacks, trying to persuade him to surrender.Their most recent meeting, on the preceding Sunday, was reported to have ended acrimoniously.
Vicente Guterres, the Vice-President of Parliament, became acting President following the attacks;he was soon replaced as acting President by Fernando de Araújo, the President of Parliament. Lieutenant Gastão Salsinha said that he had taken over as head of the rebels after Reinado's death and claimed that the attacks were not assassination attempts. According to Salsinha, presidential security started the fighting.
At Gusmão's request, Parliament extended the initial 48-hour state of emergency for ten days on 13 February, with 30 votes in favour and 14 abstaining.On the same day, Prosecutor-General Longinhos Monteiro said that he was about to issue warrants for the arrest of 18 individuals in connection with the attacks, whom he did not name.
Angelita Pires, said to have been Reinado's lawyer, was arrested in Dili on 17 February. Prosecutor-General Monteiro said that Pires was suspected of having information about the attacks because, according to Monteiro, she let Reinado (a wanted man) stay in her home on the night prior to the attacks without notifying the authorities. Three others were also thought to have been arrested in connection with the attacks by the time Pires was arrested, along with more than 200 arrested for violating the emergency laws put in place after the attacks.
Prosecutor-General Monteiro said that Reinado's group had initially intended to merely kidnap Ramos-Horta and Gusmão, but that this plan had failed and that they had therefore switched to their backup plan. Meanwhile, Araújo said that the government would engage in no further dialogue with the rebels and that there was an arrest warrant for Salsinha.
Strong disagreements regarding the events became increasingly visible in the East-Timorese political system: Mário Viegas Carrascalão (former Governor during the Indonesian rule and present President and Deputy of the Social Democratic Party), as well as Mari Alkatiri (former Prime-Minister and Secretary-General of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor - FRETILIN), have both voiced their doubts on the existence of an attack on Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão.Likewise, Reinado's adoptive father declared to LUSA and to Portuguese television that he had spoken with Salsinha, after the death of his son, and that Salsinha denied that there had been an attack on Gusmão.
On 22 February, Parliament voted to extend the state of emergency by 30 days.
Amaro da Silva Susar, who is said to have participated in the attack on Ramos-Horta, surrendered on 1 March at Turiscai without resistance, saying that he wanted "calm" to return to East Timor. According to da Silva, he participated in the attack but did not actually shoot Ramos-Horta.
In early March, Araujo visited Ramos-Horta in Darwin. He said that Ramos-Horta had forgiven Reinado for the attack and did not understand why Reinado had wanted to kill him. According to Araujo, Ramos-Horta, who had started walking again, was "very lucid, showing his concern for the country and the responsibility of the head of state"; he wanted the people to remain calm and wanted a full investigation to take place.
A message from Ramos-Horta, still recovering in Darwin Private Hospital, was broadcast on 12 March. In this message, he thanked his supporters and Australia and said that he had "been very well looked after". A spokesman said that his condition was improving and that he was taking short daily walks for exercise.Meanwhile, his brother Arsenio Ramos-Horta said that President Ramos-Horta had identified Marcelo Caetano as the man who had shot him. Arsenio said that Caetano had been shot in the 2006 violence and that Ramos-Horta had taken Caetano into his home at that time to help him recover. The President's office declined to confirm this identification due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.
Ramos-Horta was discharged from Royal Darwin Hospital on 19 March, although he said that he would stay in Australia for physical therapy for "a few more weeks". He also said on this occasion that he had remained conscious following the shooting and "remember[ed] every detail", describing how he was taken for treatment. Thanking the hospital staff, he gave them Timorese coffee. The hospital's general manager that he was "inspired" by Ramos-Horta's recovery from such serious injuries, although he said that Ramos-Horta would probably continue to suffer pain from the injuries for a long time.
On 23 March, Parliament extended the state of emergency for another month.On the same day, Ramos-Horta went out in public for the first time since the shooting, visiting St Mary's Catholic Cathedral in Darwin. Meanwhile, Salsinha was reported to be negotiating his surrender in Maubesi. The authorities have placed a priority on obtaining his peaceful surrender, concerned that if he is killed, what he knew about the attacks would be "bur[ied] with him". Four other rebels surrendered on 22 March.
Later in March, Ramos-Horta said in a television interview that it had taken a long time for an ambulance to arrive after he was shot. He also described how he had looked into his attacker's eyes and, seeing that the man was "determined to fire", he "turned and ran" immediately before being shot. According to Ramos-Horta, the UN wasted a critical opportunity to capture the rebels who participated in the attack by failing to surround Dili and close off the exits. Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said in response that Ramos-Horta was "in no position ... to properly judge the timing".
On 17 April, Ramos-Horta returned to Dili from Darwin; he was greeted at the airport by politicians and dignitaries, tens of thousands of citizens lined the road to the airport. He gave an emotional press conference at the airport in which he urged Salsinha and the remaining rebels to surrender; however, despite Salsinha's insistence on surrendering only to Ramos-Horta in person, Ramos-Horta said that he would not go to meet with him for this purpose. He also said at the press conference that Reinado had not had a prearranged meeting at his house on the day of the attack, describing this as a "lie".On his return, Ramos-Horta immediately resumed the Presidency from the acting President de Araújo.
Some months after the attack, questions arose about the government's version of the death of Alfredo Reinado. An autopsy report concluded that Reinado had been shot at "very close range" in the back of the head. It has been suggested that Reinado was executed rather than shot in defence.
What the rebels' intention was remains unknown.