Mauritania has released 35 suspected terrorists from prison in an end-of-Ramadan amnesty.
Mauritanian Justice Minister Abdine Ould El-Khair says President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz pardoned the men before the feast ending the Muslim holy month.
The justice minister says he hopes the prisoners released by the president will take the opportunity to "return to rationality" and learn from the lessons of Islamic scholars who campaigned for their release in talks with the Aziz government.
The prisoners were accused of terrorist activities supporting the group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which began in Algeria in 1992 as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. It changed its name several years ago to align itself more closely with the broader al-Qaida terrorist network.
The group claims responsibility for an attack on Mauritanian military barracks in the town of Nema two weeks ago that killed the attacker and injured three soldiers. In the past year, the group kidnapped three Spanish aid workers and an Italian couple in Mauritania. All five have since been released. The group says it shot dead a U.S. aid worker in the Mauritanian capital last year and set off a small explosive device outside the French Embassy in Nouakchott.
Among those released by President Aziz is Abdallahi Ould Mohamed Sidiya, who was once on Saudi Arabia's most wanted list. In remarks broadcast on state television, Sidiya renounced acts of violence.
Sidiya thanked Islamic leaders who campaigned for the men's release, saying they all hope to be good, reforming sons of the country, despite what he called the injustices they have suffered. Twenty of his colleagues were never tried, despite spending more than two years in jail. Sidiya says the men are willing to forgive injustices because the country is dear to them and its citizens are most generous.
Mauritanian political analyst Ahmed Mahmoud Ould Abu El Mali says the men released were part of a group that publicly agreed to reject violence.
El-Mali says the release is the first fruit of an ongoing dialogue between the government and religious leaders, and he expects more releases to follow.
Some of the men pardoned say they have never engaged in terrorist activities and are innocent of the charges against them. Last week, their family members petitioned President Aziz for an end-of-Ramadan pardon.