How an Islamist made it free in Mauritania

This week was interesting in Mauritania. Sidi Ould Sidna, accused of killing four French nationals in December, escaped from police custody. How? According to Mauritanians (and Magharebia) convinced his guards at the courthouse in Nouakchott to let him go to the bathroom, by himself. Rather than going to the lavatory, Ould Sidna made his way to the courthouse’s exit. When he walked out the front door, he told the guards there that he had been acquitted by the judge and was free to go. (Another version says that he asked the guards to leave him alone for a few minutes of prayer, which he used to make his getaway.)

This of course was cause for great embarrassment on the part of the Mauritanian government, especially since it occurred during an official visit of the Emir of Qatar. A fire-fight in Nouakchott, which killed one Islamist (though not Ould Sidna), preceded the Emir’s departure, and it is likely that these events influenced his early move on to Senegal. The disturbance did not seem to influence business dealings between the two countries, with the Emir announcing the launch of a new Mauritanian airline and various other projects moving ahead uninterrupted.

Recent terrorist attacks have caused the Mauritanian economy to slow, with security concerns leading to a lack of confidence from international investors and a slowing of the tourism industry. The combination of economic instability and the widely held perception of the country’s democratically elected president, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, as a weakling could lead to major changes over the next year in Mauritania.

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