Mauritanian President Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz flew to Paris for medical treatment yesterday after soldiers shot at his convoy and wounded him in what the government said was an accident.
Abdel Aziz was wounded on Saturday after an army unit fired on his convoy as he returned to the capital, Nouakchott, from a weekend retreat.
The government played down the incident, saying the 55-year-old was only “slightly wounded” and that the shooting was an accident as the soldiers did not realize that the convoy was his.
“This was an accidental shooting on the presidential convoy as it returned to Nouakchott. The army unit did not recognize the presidential convoy,” Mauritanian Communications Minister Hamdi Mahjoub said in remarks on national TV.
A security source had earlier said that the president had been directly targeted.
Yesterday, the president flew to Paris for medical treatment after undergoing an operation at a military hospital to remove a “bullet from his body,” a security source said on condition of anonymity.
The source did not specify where the bullet had lodged, but said none of his vital organs had been hit and “his life is not in danger.”
Unconfirmed media reports in Nouakchott said variously that Abdel Aziz had been hit in the arm, the abdomen or both.
Mahjoub had sought to reassure the public about Abdel Aziz’s health in his televised remarks.
“The Mauritanian people can be reassured, the president is fine ... He was slightly wounded, and he got out of the vehicle unassisted upon arrival at the hospital, where he walked in without difficulty,” he said.
However, earlier, a security source said that Abdel Aziz was hit in the arm by a bullet that an unknown gunman fired at him as he was driving from his weekend retreat in nearby Tweila.
The gunman in a car “directly targeted” the head of state, he added, without giving any indications as to the identity of the attacker or the motive.
“The president’s life is not in danger, he got out and walked to a military hospital, where he received first aid,” the source said.
Opposition lawmakers accuse the former general of despotism, mismanagement and having failed to heed commitments made in the Dakar accords that led to his election in 2009, a year after he seized power in a coup.
The opposition wants a transition government to take over from Abdel Aziz and find a way out of the crisis, dealing with issues such as unemployment, slavery and attacks on human rights.
Abdel Aziz has insisted he will not resign, despite a series of opposition protests.
“I have no intention of leaving power because I think that in a democracy, change must be done through the ballot box,” Abdel Aziz said in August.
He has led a military campaign against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
He has been the subject of several failed assassination attempts by AQIM, al-Qaeda’s franchise in North Africa, according to sources.