Mauritanians condemn assassination of US citizen
By Mohamed Khattat for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 28/06/09
Mauritanians spoke out strongly this week against the killing of a US citizen in the Ksar district of Nouakchott. Christopher Leggett, the 39-year-old director of a language and IT school, was shot dead on the morning of June 23rd outside his place of work. Two young Mauritanians were arrested in connection with the case on Thursday.
The same day – in an audio tape aired on satellite TV channel Al Jazeera – al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the fatal shooting.
Citizens were shocked by the casual manner in which the act was committed: in broad daylight, at the corner of a road leading to a mosque, very close to the central market and in an old district of the capital. The press drew inevitable connections to the December 2007 slaying of four French tourists near the town of Aleg, east of the capital, by three young men with connections to al-Qaeda.
On the day of the killing, a group of Mauritanian political party leaders issued a collective statement condemning the "appalling act" and decrying it as "foreign to the values and traditions of hospitality of our peace-loving people".
The officials called for an immediate inquiry, "to shed light on the circumstances surrounding this unspeakable crime, arrest those responsible and bring them to justice".
Members of the Coordination Nationale pour la Sauvegarde de la Démocratie (CNSD, which supports General Mohamed Ould Abdul Aziz's bid to become president) stressed in a similar statement that "by no means can the Mauritanian people be held responsible for this act of barbarity which is contrary to our religious and moral values".
The Rally of Democratic Forces, leaders of the democratic opposition, offered condolences to Leggett's family and condemned the criminal act.
The National Foundation for the Defence of Democracy also pressed for an inquiry, questioning the "uncertain circumstances" of the killing.
"This hateful crime, which was committed in broad daylight close to the market in Ksar, one of the busiest in Nouakchott, once again raises the issue of instability and terrorism, which is often used by the military authorities to justify all sorts of unnatural situations," the FNDD said.
"It is surprising that the chief commanding officers, who are so preoccupied with security and the fight against terrorism, are on their way to the east of the country to welcome their candidate, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, while peace-loving foreign citizens are being assassinated in cold blood and in broad daylight, right in the centre of the capital," the opposition group concluded.
Some observers placed the killing in a broader context.
"It is difficult not to notice the timing of this act," said Moussa Ould Ebnou, president of the Francophone Writers' Association. "The attack took place when several analysts were stressing that the US embassy in Nouakchott had a lot to do with the current political tensions in Mauritania and would support the proposal to dissolve the High Council of State."
Civil society groups also spoke out against the attack. In a statement published on Thursday, the Association des Femmes Chefs de Famille [Women Heads of Household Association, AFCF] "roundly condemns the appalling assassination of this peace-loving American citizen".
AFCF President Aminetou Mint El Moktar said that Christopher Leggett was "a man known for his love of this country and who had excellent relations with Mauritanians".
This was confirmed by a guard at a detention centre in Baila who had previously worked with Leggett's Noura Foundation, established five years ago.
"He had a great passion for Mauritania and succeeded in extending his foundation to several districts of the capital to provide training in IT and languages, help young people integrate into society and set up women's co-operatives," said another former colleague.
"People like that must not be killed."
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