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Government, Relatives in Mauritania Express Concerns About Terror Suspects


The government and relatives of terrorist suspects in Mauritania have concerns as those charged await trial. The government has moved the suspects inside a military garrison to prevent another escape, but their relatives say they are innocent, and that they are being tortured. VOA's Nico Colombant at our Dakar bureau has more with reporting by Ebrima Sillah in this the third part of a series of life in post-election Mauritania, after decades of military rule.

Women, mostly mothers and sisters of terror suspects, stage a sit-in outside Mauritania's Supreme Court in Nouakch.

Aminatou Mint Ayouba says women have an advantage over men in having their voices heard, because she says, if the men were here protesting, they would be beaten up by police.

She says her only son was taken away one morning, when police broke into her home with guns raised. She says she has not seen him since.

Lala Mint Sidi is also angry. She says her brother was in the final year of university studies when he was arrested while sleeping at his home. She says he is innocent and does not know why he is being jailed.

Mauritania's government has been rounding up dozens of people it calls suspected Islamic terrorists, after a string of attacks against tourists, soldiers, and the Israeli embassy.

After several key suspects in the murder of the French tourists fled the main Nouakchott jail and were recaptured, terror suspects were moved to a new prison inside a military garrison.

Mint Sidi says she has heard the detained are being tortured, and that they are being kept up without sleep. She says she also heard the detainees were forced to sign statements that had been written in French, even though they do not understand French.

A report issued by London-based Amnesty International says that in May, about 40 people accused of involvement in armed terrorist attacks were detained incommunicado for longer than the 15 days allowed by Mauritanian law. It said some were tortured.

Previous terror suspects who were released said they had been burned with cigarettes and had their hands tied under their knees and with a metal bar suspended from the ceiling in what is called the "jaguar position."

Amnesty International said there had been no public reaction from the government about these allegations. Officials were not available to comment about the women's protests or their allegations.

The president of the Bar Association of Mauritania, Ahmed Ould Yusuf Ould Sheikh Sidna, told VOA that with terror suspects all normal legal procedures are being ignored.

Since their relocation inside military barracks, he says, it makes it very difficult for defense lawyers to have access to their clients. He says it is impossible to know what the military is doing with the detainees, since normal prison rules do not seem to apply anymore.

Sheikh Sidna says he believes Mauritania's government is creating its own enemies, to get more funding and U.S. help for its military as part of the war on terror. He says he does not believe there are extreme forms of Islam in Mauritania.

But anthropologists in Mauritania say Islamic radicalism has grown during the past decades and accelerated even more since open elections in 2007 ended years of military-dominated rule.

They say unemployed youth, who come to cities losing their tribal roots, or university educated men who get no jobs, despite working hard to get diplomas, often turn to extreme religious ideology. They also say some shows on Arab satellite channels, which are becoming more and more accessible, also fuel extremism.

The government says the terror threat is real, and that the group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has been recruiting Mauritanians into training camps in the Sahara.

Elected in 2007, President Ould Sidi Mohamed Cheikh Abadallahi has denied restricting civil liberties. He has said the democratic system Mauritanians are trying to put in place cannot accept this.