Nouakchott — What some called an "accidental" shooting of the Mauritanian president may be linked to his long-standing campaign against al-Qaeda, some observers say.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is recovering in a Paris military hospital and needs no further surgery, AFP reported Monday (October 15th).
The Mauritanian leader was shot Saturday evening by an army unit while returning to Nouakchott from Tweila, 40km north of the capital.
"This was an accidental shooting on the presidential convoy as it returned to Nouakchott. The army unit did not recognise the presidential convoy," Communications Minister Hamdi Ould Mahjoub said.
The president received first aid at Nouakchott's military hospital where he underwent surgery to remove a bullet. Ould Abdel Aziz was then flown to Percy Military Hospital in Clamart, outside of Paris, according to the French defence ministry.
Before leaving for Paris, Ould Abdel Aziz addressed the nation from his Nouakchott hospital bed. "I want to reassure the citizens of Mauritania that the operation I underwent yesterday [Saturday] evening was a success thanks to the efficiency of the medical team that carried it out," the president said.
AMI quoted the president's doctor, Ahmed Ould Sidi Mohamed, as saying Monday that the president's health was "improving after the operation that was carried out in Nouakchott and there will not be another surgical operation".
According to Al Akhbar, authorities in Nouakchott have arrested two army officers that opened fire on the president. But the incident has raised many questions among the political classes and observers.
Asked about it at the Francophonie summit in Kinshasa, Mauritanian Foreign Minister Hamadi Ould Hamadi said that there was "no reason to worry about the situation, either for the country or the president, who is still exercising full authority".
The ruling Union for the Republic (UPR) wished Ould Abdel Aziz a speedy recovery. One of his fiercest opponents, Tawassoul leader Jemil Ould Mansour, also hoped he would soon be better and back home with his family.
Analyst Ahmed Ould Soueid Ahmed said that "statements by the communications minister have only increased concern among Mauritanians regarding not only the president's fate but more particularly the future stability of the government, with power largely designed to be concentrated in the hands of a single person, even though Aziz has always shown absolute confidence in his security system, including his closest guards."
For its part, newspaper Aqlame wondered, "What kind of mistake could lead a soldier to empty his rounds into the car carrying the president of the republic? What was that unit doing on the president's route? What information could they have received about the president of the republic's private car to be so hostile towards it?"
Some observers have suggested it could have been a planned attack. Elemine Ould Mohamed, a professor of political science, noted that "in 2011, AQIM threatened to kill him, accusing him of waging war against the mujahideen on France's behalf. However, he has regularly rebutted those jihadist accusations."
The president has led a military campaign against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and has been the target of several failed assassination attempts by the terrorist group.
"We are simply defending ourselves, protecting our borders, and France has no need of us to fight in its place," Ould Abdel Aziz said last March in Nouadhibou.