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Top militant sentenced to death in Mauritania

From Mohamed Yahya Abdel Wedoud, For CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Aides also receive death sentences
  • The militant has ties to a wing of al Qaeda
  • Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is holding seven hostages in Niger

Nouakchott, Mauritania (CNN) -- An al Qaeda-linked militant who threatened France in court has been sentenced to death in the North African country of Mauritania, according to local media reports

El Khadim Ould Semane was convicted of leading a deadly 2008 shootout in the capital, Nouakchott. It left a police officer dead and other security forces wounded.

Semane is the founder and leader of the Mauritanian militant group Ansarou Allah, which means "God's supporters." It is affiliated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

In all, 19 defendants were on trial in the criminal court, seven of whom could have been sentenced to death. Two of Semane's aides were also sentenced to die.

"I'm a mujahedeen. I have devoted my life to this mission, and I ask the court to pronounce my death and cut my body into small pieces. This will expand my reward in the hereafter," Semane said.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb believes that France is its first enemy because it is helping the Mauritanian government quash the movement, and in court, Semane warned France of "dark nights."

The al Qaeda-affiliated group claimed responsibility for abducting seven hostages in Niger recently. Five are French, one is Togolese, and the other is from Madagascar.