14 oct 2012
Mauritanian president ‘accidentally’ shot by army
Nouakchott, Mauritania: Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz flew to Paris for medical treatment on Sunday after soldiers shot at his convoy and wounded him in what the government said was an accident.
Mr Abdel Aziz was wounded on Saturday after an army unit fired on his convoy as he returned to the capital Nouakchott from a weekend retreat.
The government played down the incident, saying Mr Abdel Aziz,55 was only “slightly wounded” and that the shooting was an accident as the soldiers didn’t realise that the convoy was his.
“This was an accidental shooting on the presidential convoy as it returned to Nouakchott. The army unit did not recognize the presidential convoy,” Communications Minister Hamdi Mahjoub said in remarks on national television.
A security source had earlier said that the president had been directly targeted.
On Sunday, the president flew to Paris for medical treatment after undergoing an operation at a military hospital to remove a “bullet from his body,” a security source said on condition of anonymity.
The source did not specify where the bullet had lodged but said none of his vital organs had been hit and “his life is not in danger.”
Unconfirmed media reports in Nouakchott said variously that Mr Abdel Aziz had been hit in the arm and/or the abdomen.
Communications Minister Mahjoub had sought to reassure about Mr Abdel Aziz’s health in his televised remarks.
“The Mauritanian people can be reassured, the president is fine. He was slightly wounded, and he got out of the vehicle unassisted upon arrival at the hospital, where he walked in without difficulty,” he said.
But earlier, a security source said that Abdel Aziz was hit in the arm by a bullet that an unknown gunman fired at him as he was driving from his weekend retreat in nearby Tweila.
The gunman in a car “directly targeted” the head of state, he added, without giving any indications as to the identity of the attacker or the motive.
“The president’s life is not in danger, he got out and walked to a military hospital where he received first aid,” the source said.
Opposition lawmakers accuse the former general of despotism and mismanagement and having failed to heed commitments made in the Dakar accords that led to his election in 2009, a year after he seized power in a coup d’etat.
The opposition wants a transition government to take over from Mr Abdel Aziz and find a way out of the crisis, dealing with issues such as unemployment, slavery and attacks on human rights.
Mr Abdel Aziz has insisted he will not resign, despite a series of opposition protests.
“I have no intention of leaving power because I think that in a democracy, change must be done through the ballot box,” Mr Abdel Aziz said in August.
He has led a military campaign against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
He has been the subject of several failed assassination attempts by AQIM, Al Qaeda’s franchise in North Africa, according to sources.
AQIM, which stems from a group started in the late 1990s by radical Algerian Islamists, formally subscribed to Al-Qaeda’s ideology in 2007, but after a string of high-profile attacks, the Algerian army managed to severely curtail its operations.
It has since been boosted by the turmoil in neighbouring Mali that followed a coup there in March, with hardline Islamists occupying the country’s vast northern region.
Mr Abdel Aziz’s mandate expires in 2014.