Magharebia (Washington DC)

23 October 2012

Mauritanian Army Breaks Silence On Presidential Shooting

Nouakchott — Amid massive speculation, the Mauritanian military answers questions about the incident that left the president injured.

The Mauritanian military on Sunday (October 21st) broke the silence on the "accidental" shooting of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

First lieutenant Hadj Ould Ahmoudi, who admitted to shooting the president, appeared on state television to offer a detailed explanation of the October 13th incident.

Ould Ahmoudi, was in a military aviation infantry unit on a temporary training mission just north of Nouakchott, said Colonel Taieb Ould Ibrahim, State Staff Director of Communications and Public Relations.

His unit "was tasked with securing its own personnel and surroundings only and had no inspection tasks," said Ould Ibrahim, who also appeared on TV. "In addition, the officer who opened fire was in civilian clothes and was using a civilian vehicle with foreign number plates. That was why the president didn't recognise it and therefore refused to stop."

He added that the lieutenant had acted "unprofessionally" but the military "understands his intention and lack of experience".

"Fire was opened on the president's vehicle after it was suspected of belonging to terrorist groups, especially when it refused to respond to warnings and gunshots in the air," Ould Ahmoudi said. "The passengers were also fully hiding their identities, which fuelled these fears."

The shooting incident raised concern about lax security and lack of co-ordination among military units. It came at a juncture marked by "an imminent security threat represented by the terrorist groups that may infiltrate anywhere", said Mohamed Ould Zain, a journalist who specialises in security affairs.

Citizens' fears are heightened now that "the highest official in the country's hierarchy has been shot in spite of the vigilance of presidential guards and careful security co-ordination", he added.

Military officials met last Monday to evaluate security measures taken after the shooting. They decided to enforce new preventive mechanisms "focusing on tightening control on crossings and checkpoints", Aray Almostenir reported.

"The Mauritanian public opinion started to ask many questions on the effectiveness of measures taken in recent weeks, including the security atmosphere that reigned in different suburbs and neighbourhoods in the Mauritanian capital," said Mohamed Ould al-Salek who works in public security.

The accident "mobilised" Mauritania's political scene, political journalist Mohamed Ould al-Aqel commented. "The absence of the Mauritanian president for treatment in these weeks has thrown the country into a state of vacuum" he added.

It came at "a very decisive" time as the country is preparing for the next election and the world is about to launch a war in Azawad against armed groups, Ould al-Aqel said.

The Mauritanian street was baffled at the shooting, with many raising questions about the country's security situation.

"I think we have the right to ask questions about the security situation in a country where the president is mistakenly fired at," Embarka Mint Sidi, a seller in Nouakchott market, said. "Who can then guarantee that the same wouldn't happen to us?"

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