Mauritania puts terror suspects on trial
Mauritania began the high-security trial on Sunday of 21 suspects charged with terrorism offences, including three Al-Qaeda-linked nationals accused of murdering a group of French tourists in 2007.
Armed police surrounded the criminal court in the capital Nouakchott as the president of the court, Ould Kheyi, opened proceedings.
A total of 12 people are facing charges for the killings of the French tourists, nine for complicity, and three Mauritanians linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) who are accused of pulling the triggers. The men are expected to appear in court on Tuesday.
The three affiliated to AQIM are accused of shooting five French tourists on December 24, 2007, east of the southern town of Aleg in southern Mauritania, killing four and seriously wounding the fifth.
Since then, the west African desert nation has seen several attacks, killings and kidnappings of Westerners claimed by AQIM.
The suspects are Sidi Ould Sidna and Mohamed Ould Chabarnou, arrested in January 2008 in Guinea-Bissau by local police in cooperation with French intelligence, and Maarouf Ould Haiba, held shortly afterwards in Nouakchott.
The remainder face a variety of terrorist charges, including firing on the Israeli embassy in Nouakchott in 2008.
Women wearing burqas, rarely worn in Mauritania, told journalists they were prevented from attending the trial after refusing to remove the garment's veil from their faces.
The first suspect to be called on Sunday, Abdallahi Ould Mohamed Sidya, was according to the prosecutors a suspected member of a Salafist extremist group.
Prosecutors asked the court to impose a 30-year jail sentence and confiscation of his assets, but his lawyers called for acquittal.
© 2010 AFP