Skip to main content

Mauritania's president heads to France for treatment after shooting

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 6:15 AM EDT, Mon October 15, 2012
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was elected in 2009, but the CIA refers to his administration as a military junta.
President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was elected in 2009, but the CIA refers to his administration as a military junta.
  • France's defense ministry says Mauritania's president will be treated there
  • The president says he is fine, that shooting was an "accident"
  • Witnesses think the incident was an assassination attempt, local media say
  • Troops mistakenly open fire on Mauritania's presidential convoy, state news reports

Read a version of this story in Arabic

(CNN) -- Mauritania's president was admitted to a French military hospital for treatment Sunday, hours after he took to his country's airwaves to say troops had shot him by accident.

Doctors will treat President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz at a military hospital outside Paris, France's Defense Ministry said.

"I want to reassure all citizens of my well-being after the accident committed by an army unit on an unpaved road around Touela. ... Everything is fine," Aziz said in an interview broadcast on official Mauritanian television earlier Sunday.

Troops shot the president late Saturday in what the government is calling a case of "friendly fire" -- though others believe it may have been something more sinister. Aziz's convoy mistakenly came under fire as it was heading back toward the capital of Nouakchott, the official AMI news agency reported. The gunshots came from a military unit stationed alongside the road in the west African country.

Messages of hope for Mauritanian slaves
Reporting on slavery in Mauritania
Mauritania: Slavery's last stronghold

French officials did not provide details about the president's treatment or prognosis.

Mauritania: Slavery's last stronghold

Aziz said earlier Sunday that he had a successful operation to treat minor injuries.

But witnesses said they believe the incident was an assassination attempt, because unknown armed men shot their guns at the president and ran away, according to the independent Mauritania News agency. The witnesses said the armed men "directly" targeted the president as he was returning from his farm in Inchiri province, near the capital, Mauritania News reported.

Mauritania has a history of political instability and faces threats from al Qaeda militants.

A former general, Aziz came to power in a bloodless 2008 military coup -- one of many such coups the country of about 3.4 million people has had since it gained independence from France in 1960. He ousted Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who had been the nation's first democratically elected leader, according to the U.S. State Department.

Aziz was elected president in 2009. Still, the CIA describes the country's leadership as a "military junta."

Security in Mauritania has been ratcheted up in recent weeks amid concerns about "armed terrorist groups" in nearby northern Mali, according to Magharebia, a website sponsored by the U.S. Africa Command -- a part of the U.S. military focused on the continent.

The measures include a bolstered security presence on main streets, near embassies and by government buildings in Nouakchott, as well as stepped-up patrols, Magharebia said.

No official reason has been given for the enhanced security, according to the report. But the publication, quoting terrorism experts and local news reports, said it may be related to threats posed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

In May, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Mauritania because of AQIM activities.

"As a result of perceived Western involvement in counterterrorism efforts, AQIM has declared its intention to attack Western targets," the warning said.

The United States engages with Mauritania on a range of issues, including counterterrorism, food security, trade promotion and efforts to strengthen human rights, the State Department said.

European official: Al Qaeda threat in northern Africa 'spreading'

Mauritania: Former Gadhafi spy chief extradited to Libya

Mauritanian refugees make new home in Ohio

CNN's Amir Ahmed contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.