News & Current Affairs

August 13, 2008

Al-Qaeda ‘warning’ for Mauritania

Al-Qaeda ‘warning’ for Mauritania

Gen Muhammad Ould Abdelaziz, 10 August 2008

Gen Abdelaziz has said he wants to tackle the roots of extremism

An internet message purporting to be from the North African wing of al-Qaeda has urged Mauritanians to take up arms against their coup leaders.

Last week, General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz and other military officers toppled the country’s first democratically-elected president.

Gen Abdelaziz said defeating extremism was one of his main priorities.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is largely based in Algeria but has been blamed for attacks in Mauritania.

The government said it killed four French tourists last December, an incident that prompted the cancellation of the Paris-Dakar car rally.

It also blamed the group for attacking the Israeli embassy in the capital, Nouakchott, in February.

The internet message alleges that despite wide condemnation of the coup by Western governments, it would not have been possible without the approval of France, the United States and Israel.

The statement is apparently signed by the leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Abdelmalik Droukdal.

The BBC’s James Copnall in Nouakchott says Mauritania is extremely poor, and its young people are increasingly radicalised.

In addition the country is almost entirely an empty desert, and the vast open spaces make it easy for illegal groups to avoid detection.

That is one of the reasons the US has funded the Mauritanian military, our reporter says – although that aid has been frozen following the coup.

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August 8, 2008

US halt aid over Mauritania coup

US halt aid over Mauritania coup

General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz (r) with unidentified junta members in Mauritania

Gen Abdelaziz has promised to hold fresh elections

The United States has suspended more than $20m (£10m) in  non-humanitarian aid to Mauritania after a coup.

The US state department said it condemned in the strongest possible terms the overthrow of the country’s first democratically-elected president.

But General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, who led the military coup, said the army would safeguard democracy.

Meanwhile, the Arab League and the African Union have demanded the ousted president’s be released immediately.

Diplomats from both organisations are due in Mauritania on Friday to discuss the situation with the coup leaders.

President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was detained by renegade soldiers on Wednesday after he tried to dismiss four senior army officers – including Mr Abdelaziz, the head of the presidential guard.

I’m very worried about his health and his security
Amal Cheikh Abdallahi
President’s daughter

Prime Minister Yahia Ould Ahmed El-Ouakef – who the coup leaders had also detained – was reported to have been taken to a barracks near the presidency.

The whereabouts of the president are still unclear, and his daughter, Amal Cheikh Abdallahi, said she did not know where her father was.

“I’m very worried about his health and his security,” she told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

“He doesn’t have the right to move or to call. He doesn’t have a phone. He doesn’t have liberty,” she said.

Joking

The US aid suspended includes $15m (£7.5m) in military-to-military co-operation, more than $4m (£2m) in peacekeeping training, and more than $3m (£1.5m) in development assistance.

A demonstration in support of the coup leaders

Some MPs and parties have expressed support for the military intervention

Gen Abdelaziz said the new military council, which has promised to hold elections, would “solve the country’s problems”.

“The armed forces and the security forces will always stay with the people to deepen the democracy,” he said in the capital, Nouakchott.

“It’s them who brought the democracy here and it’s them who have always protected this democracy and they will always preserve it.”

On Thursday, there were demonstrations for and against the coup in Nouakchott.

But the BBC’s James Copnall, who arrived in the city on Thursday evening, the day after the takeover, says it is remarkably calm and relaxed.

He said some people at the airport were joking about the situation – possibly as it is not regarded as that out of the ordinary given the country’s history of coups.

The military has been involved in nearly every government since Mauritania’s independence from France in 1960.

The president transformed everything into a family business
Morsen Ould Al Haj
Senate vice-president

Presidential elections held in 2007 ended a two-year period of military rule – the product of a military coup in 2005.

Despite the widespread international condemnation of the takeover, many MPs and political parties have expressed their support for it.

Senate Vice-President Morsen Ould al-Haj said that the president had abused his powers and was particularly angered by the influence his daughter and wife wielded.

“He failed completely – he transformed everything into a family business. He became very stubborn; he started by installing his children all parts of the government,” he told the BBC.

“Each of his children consider themselves himself a prince ready to inherit the country. They are a real royal family.”

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