Mauritania foils coup attempt by foreign Islamic group

Friday, August 13, 2004

CAIRO Mauritania has acknowledged that the military tried to overthrow the regime in that Arab League state.

The North African regime said a group within the military had planned to launch a coup against President Maaouiya Ould Taya during a scheduled trip to France. Taya was scheduled to travel to France on Aug. 15 for the 60th anniversary of the end of the Nazi occupation of that country in 1944, Middle East Newsline reported.

"The plot has been brought under control and its perpetrators arrested," Mauritanian Defense Minister Baba Ould Sidi said.

Arab diplomatic sources said 25 officers have been arrested in connection with the coup attempt. They said the officers were connected to a foreign-based Islamic fundamentalist movement that tried to overthrow the regime in 2003. Taya seized power in 1984.

Sidi was quoted by the official AMI news agency as saying that the officers, identified as members of a group called "Riders of Change," were to have launched simultaneous attacks on military barracks in Nouakchott and other cities. He said the plotters sought to kill officers loyal to the Taya regime then sever telephone links and power in Mauritania.

"Those who planned this new coup attempt are those who led the failed putsch on June 8, 2003 before fleeing," Sidi said.

Mauritania has been regarded as a key U.S. ally in North Africa and participant in the war against Al Qaida as part of Washington's Pan Sahel initiative. Israel and the United States were said to have cooperated in the training and equipping of Mauritania's military and security forces to battle internal and external threats.

The North African state has sought to develop its large offshore crude oil and natural gas reserves. On Aug. 10, a leading contractor, Australia's Woodside Petroleum, banned travel by staff members and contractors to Mauritania.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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