Mauritania opposition: Regime is silencing opponents to conceal flaws
NOUAKCHOTT - Mauritania's opposition on Friday condemned as outrageous the issuing of an arrest warrant against a prominent critic of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz for supporting terror groups.
Moustapha Ould Limam Chafi, 53, a prosperous businessman who has top-level connections in many West African capitals, is one of four people charged this week with financing terrorism and sharing intelligence with Al-Qaeda linked groups.
A coalition of 10 leading Mauritanian opposition parties said in a statement that they "firmly condemn this outrageous measure which is a despicable exploitation of justice to discredit and silence opponents".
Ould Limam Chafi lived in Burkina Faso where he was involved in negotiations with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) for the release of Western hostages in the Sahel and Sahara. He is a former advisor to Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore.
Security officials close to the political leadership in Ouagadougou say he left Burkina Faso in 2011, while other sources said he moved to Ivory Coast.
He is a fierce critic of Abdel Aziz and has called for his ouster, accusing him of "failing in his bid to root out terrorism".
Chafi is also said to be extremely close to Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou, and has spent a lot of time with Ivory Coast Prime Minister Guillaume Soro. His influence also stretches to Darfur and Rwanda.
AQIM is involved in attacks, kidnappings of Westerners and various types of trafficking including drugs.
Overall, 12 Europeans are currently being held hostage in the Sahel region which lies south of the Sahara desert.
Countries such as France and Spain, whose citizens are often targeted "ardently wish to have Chafi involved in negotiations to free their citizens," said a Malian mediator.
Among the other suspects is Hamada Ould Mohamed Kheirou, who is believed to head an AQIM splinter group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. Its militants claimed the kidnapping of three Westerners -- a man and a woman from Spain and an Italian woman -- in Algeria in October.