Mauritanian court to rule on French tourists' alleged killers

25th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

A Mauritanian court was Tuesday to hand down its verdict on three young Al-Qaeda members accused of murdering four French tourists in 2007, after a prosecutor sought the death sentence.

"The court has withdrawn to deliberate. The verdict was expected around the middle of the day," a judicial source told AFP.

The defendants -- Sidi Ould Sidna, 22, Maarouf Ould Haiba, 28, and Mohamed Ould Chabarnou, 29 -- are accused of having shot five French tourists east of the southern desert town of Aleg, killing four of them on December 24, 2007.

"I ask the court to condemn these three people to death, with no right to a pardon," the prosecutor, Yaghoub Ould Ahmed, said Monday.

The four tourists were killed in cold blood. A fifth man in his seventies survived the attack, but he lost two of his sons, his brother and a friend of the family.

The incident shook Mauritania, which has a reputation for its warm welcome for visitors. A few days after the killings, the Paris-Dakar motor rally, which passes through the Saharan nation, was cancelled just before it was due to begin.

At the opening of the trial on Sunday, the three men presented themselves as "soldiers of Al-Qaeda" and acknowledged they that had been "trained in camps" of the organisation, but they denied killing the French tourists.

The three men are notably accused of criminal association, belonging to an armed gang that carried out murders and terrorist attacks against citizens of a foreign country.

On Monday, defence lawyers asked for an acquittal, arguing that alleged confessions had been obtained under torture.

The court is trying a total of 12 Mauritanian men in connection with the murders, two in their absence because they are on the run.

Since the shootings of the French tourists, usually peaceful Mauritania has been subjected to several attacks, killings and kidnappings claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Ould Sidna and Ould Chabarnou were arrested in January 2008 in the west African country of Guinea-Bissau with the help of French intelligence.

Ould Haiba was detained shortly after in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott.

© 2010 AFP

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