Friday, 1 February 2008

Gunmen attack Israeli embassy in Mauritania

With AFP

The Israeli embassy in Nouakchott was attacked on Friday before dawn by gunmen who opened fire at the building, wounding at least three passersby, all French nationals. The embassy was empty at the time of the attack and none of its employees was wounded.

I called Boaz Bismuth, the Israeli ambassador in Mauritania, who used to work here in Paris as a journalist up until three-four years ago, to know more about this attack at a time when Mauritania is facing an increasing terror threat. (article for France 24)

In the interview, the Israeli ambassador in Mauritania Boaz Bismuth declared: “We heard the shots at 2.20 AM, when the streets of Nouakchott were quiet and the embassy was empty.”
“According to our sources," Bismuth added, "a sole gunman opened fire at the building."

The attack, described as an “act of terror” by Israel, comes one month after the murder of four French tourists by men who claimed to belong to Al Qaeda and after France cancelled the Paris-Dakar rally for security reasons. However, the Israeli ambassador remains cautious:

“We can’t say the shooting was a minor incident; this kind of attack against an embassy never is. But we are not planning to increase security measures, which are already quite intense.” Boaz Bismuth said “We are examining the exact circumstances of the incident before issuing a statement on its nature."

Israel is not planning to repatriate employees of its embassy in Mauritania, one of the rare countries of the Arab League to maintain diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. The ambassador stressed that Israel attaches great importance to its relations with Mauritania.

“We have excellent relations with Mauritania which is one of the three Arab countries, with which we have full diplomatic ties and I am pleased by the numerous messages of solidarity we have received since this morning from Mauritanians,” added the ambassador.

The attack occurred in the middle of the night. According to a source quoted by the AFP, a Mauritanian witness, Ali Fall, reported there were five wounded, among them a “foreign woman." According to the news agency, this was in fact a French national.

A group of men “came out of a car and walked up to a restaurant near the embassy” said the witness. A few minutes later “they shouted “Allah Akbar” and shot” at the embassy, added the witness. The guards posted in front - all Mauritanian soldiers – returned fire immediately, and the assailants left the area.

"It is a clear act of terrorism that entered the long line of attacks that have targeted our diplomatic representation abroad for several years," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Aryeh Mekel told AFP.

The attack occurred at a time when protest is growing in Mauritania for a suspension of the diplomatic ties with Israel which were established in 1999 under President Maaouiya Ould Taya, who was since overthrown in the 2005 military coup.

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