Mauritania sentences to death 3 alleged al-Qaida members for 2007 murder of French tourists

By Ahmed Mohammed, AP
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mauritania gives 3 death for French tourist murder

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania — A court in Mauritania sentenced three young men who claim to be members of an al-Qaida offshoot to death on Tuesday for the 2007 murder of four picnicking French tourists in this West African country.

The men — Sidi Ould Sidna, Maarouf Ould Haiba and Mohamed Ould Chabarneau — pleaded not guilty and have said their confessions were extracted under torture, but they also claimed to be waging a holy war.

Judge Khayi Ould Mohamed read out the sentence — for charges that included terrorism, premeditated murder and rebellion against the state — at the criminal court in the capital of Nouakchott. The men, who say they are members of al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb, a North Africa offshoot of the terror network, can appeal.

“God is great! You’ll see, dog, we’ll go to paradise,” Haiba, 28, shouted at the judge as he read the verdict. Haiba is considered the leader of the cell.

“Between us and the France of (President Nicolas) Sarkozy is the sword,” shouted Sidna, 26.

Family members present at the sentencing reacted strongly. Mariam Ould Chabarneau, Mohamed’s sister, called the punishment “exaggerated and disproportionate.”

Five French tourists were picnicking on the side of a highway in eastern Mauritania on Christmas Eve in 2007, when three men carrying automatic weapons attacked and robbed them. The men then opened fire, killing four of the tourists.

In addition to the three sentenced to death Tuesday, four who were charged as accomplices in the murder were given terms ranging from six months to three years. Two more were acquitted. They are among 21 standing trial on terrorism charges at the court.

One of the lawyers for the defense, Isac Ould Ahmed Miske, reiterated Monday ahead of the sentencing that his clients had been tortured into confessing the crime.

“I ask the court to throw out the statements, to clear the charges and to acquit our clients,” Ahmed Miske. Another lawyer, Limam Ould Cheikh, said the men would appeal.

The men have challenged the authority of the court, saying its decisions don’t apply to them because it is not following Islamic law.

“The court is only applying criminal law, not Islamic law. That’s why we’re not concerned by these decisions,” said Sidna.

Mauritania, once known as a predominantly moderate Muslim nation on Africa’s western coast, has been rocked recently by attacks by the North African al-Qaida group.

The group has kidnapped several tourists in the deserts of Mauritania and Mali, including three Spanish aid workers in November. One was released earlier this year. An Italian couple taken in Mauritania in December was released in April.

In June, American Christopher Leggett, 39, was fatally shot in the Mauritanian capital, not far from a school that he helped run. The North African al-Qaida group claimed responsibility, saying they killed the Tennessee native because he allegedly was trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

Elsewhere in West Africa, the group also has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two U.N. staffers in December, and the kidnapping of four European tourists a month later. One of the four Europeans, a Briton, was killed by his captors. The U.N. staffers and the other tourists were released.

(This version CORRECTS AQIM to say al-Qaida “of” the Islamic Maghreb sted “in”; )

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