Mauritania’s government said Sept. 20 that 12 soldiers abducted in an attack claimed by al-Qaeda were found decapitated, and appealed for international support to fight terrorism. Col. Ahmed Bemba Ould Baya, secretary general of the High State Council which took power in last month’s coup, told Reuters the corpses were found near Tourine, 70 kilometers from Zouerate. “Their bodies were found this morning after a search… They were mutilated and had their heads cut off,” he said. “This tragic episode puts the international community face to face with its responsibilities. We need its help.”
The US and the EU have strongly condemned the coup and suspended some non-humanitarian aid—including Pentagon training for Mauritanian troops. But Baya said Mauritania’s new military rulers were a more likely target for al-Qaeda “because we’re perceived as close to the West.”
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the abductions in a statement posted to several websites. The statement said: “This jihadist operation targeted the allies of the Americans, the crusaders on Islamic Mauritanian territory occupied by infidels.”
Following the Aug. 6 coup, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb called for a “holy war” in Mauritania. It said the generals and colonels who toppled the elected government of Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi in the coup were likely acting with a green light from “infidel states; America, France and Israel.” The coup leader, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, vowed after his takeover that he would crack down on militants.
On Sept. 19, Mauritania’s military-backed government also appealed for international “solidarity” to confront a terrorism threat it said threatens other countries in the region such as Mali, Algeria, Chad and Niger. “I seize this opportunity to ask the international community to take seriously this very grave threat to the stability of the region,” Communication Minister Mohamed Ould Mohamed Abderrahmane Ould Moine told a news conference.
The United Nations, the African Union and the EU have all called on Mauritania’s ruling junta to release the deposed President Abdallahi, the country’s first freely-elected leader. Asked about this, Moine said some governments were “disinformed about what is happening in Mauritania.”
“We want to revise our democratic process and we accuse the former president, with pretty conclusive proof, of having sought to block the democratic process and limit freedoms, and of corruption,” he told Reuters after the news conference.