NOUAKCHOTT (AFP) — The suspected head of Al-Qaeda in Mauritania urged the country's Muslims not to recognise the ruling military junta, calling it an "infidel regime," AFP learned Monday.
The denunciation came as the head of the African Union (AU) Commission said he held an "optimistic" meeting with the junta's leader General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, aimed at restoring a constitutional government.
In a two-page letter, handwritten in Arabic from prison and signed with his name, El Khadim Ould Esseman wrote that Muslims must not support or recognise the junta that seized power earlier this month.
"Even if (the head of the junta) linked by blood and membership of the same tribal group, the Muslim faith disqualifies him from leading the Muslim nation because he is comparable to an infidel," the letter said.
"Those who applaud the new government and those who are against it must stop and turn to the strict application of Sharia."
A member of his family passed the letter on to AFP Monday.
The military junta overthrew Mauritania's first democratically elected president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi in a bloodless coup on August 6.
Two days later, the African Union suspended Mauritania from the bloc saying the country must return to constitutional government.
AU Commission chief Jean Ping said he held a "positive" meeting Monday with the new junta leader in the capital Nouakchott.
"I am optimistic. I have a feeling that the meeting will continue with the general and that we will meet again," he said, adding that the mission's aim is to restore a constitutional government not discuss a transitional period.
Ping also met other political figures who supported or opposed the coup.
The suspected head of Mauritania's branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is accused of being the mastermind behind February's attack on the Israeli embassy in Nouakchott, for which Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility.
He was arrested at the end of April after he escaped prison in 2006.
A court charged him with "using the territory (of Mauritania) to lead terrorist acts against a foreign country" (Israel) and "belonging to a terrorist organisation."
Earlier this month a statement by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb appeared on the Internet condemning the coup in Mauritania and urging the Mauritanian people "to prepare for war."
Mauritania, a vast desert country in west Africa, was shaken between December 2007 and February 2008 by three deadly attacks from extremists linked to Al-Qaeda which left seven people dead, including four French tourists.
Over 30 suspected Islamic militants are being held in Mauritania in connection with the attacks.
The attacks caused the organisers of the 2008 Dakar rally to move the famous race, which usually crosses the Mauritanian deserts, to South America.
At the beginning of April, a policemen and two extremists were also killed in gun battle near Nouakchott.
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