Reporters Without Borders condemned an attack on Khalil Ould Jdoud, editor of the Arabic-language daily Al Akhbar on 15 February 2006 which began when a score of armed men sent by an ex colonel turned businessman burst into the newspaper’s offices looking for him.
Hours later, the journalist narrowly escaped after his car was deliberately rammed by a four-wheel drive vehicle in the centre of the capital Nouakchott.
Khalil Ould Jdoud told the organisation from hiding that the attack on him was “an attempt by the gangsters of the ousted former system to intimidate the Mauritanian press, in a bid to sabotage the country’s ongoing transition to democracy.”
The armed men turned up at the paper’s office looking for the editor the day after publication, in No 57 of Al Akhbar of a report on the financial state of the commerce and investment bank BACIM.
The journalist, who is also correspondent in Mauritania for the privately-owned TV station Al Arabyia and for Al Sharq Al Awsatt, a London-based Arabic-language daily, was out of the office at the time.
Police were called and arrested the assailants who were led by the half-brother of the bank’s main shareholder, former colonel, Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Deh, one of the leading figures in the former regime. Before the attack, the half-brother of Col. Ould Deh had telephoned the editor, who suggested that he could give him a right of reply if he wished.
The response came back: “We don’t want to deny anything, we are going to kill you”.
The ailing BACIM is suspected of involvement in embezzlement to the advantage of former top officials, under the government of former president, Maaouiya Ould Taya.
The same day, a four-wheel drive vehicle rammed a car driven by the editor in a central Nouakchott street. The journalist leapt out of the car and fled. He filed a complaint and then went into hiding fearing for his safety. He is receiving protection from a body close to the government.
“The attack on Khalil Ould Jdoud exemplifies the new challenges facing the Mauritanian press after the fall of the former regime, Reporters Without Borders said.
“We salute the authorities’ commitment in this case and encourage them to continue. The judge responsible for finding and putting the perpetrators on trial, must have the assurance, that regardless of any influence the people may have who are implicated in this case, no obstacles will be put in the search for the truth. This case must serve as an example for the future.”
A government source questioned by Reporters Without Borders said, “It is not a political case but a common-law crime. The editor’s assailants are in prison and we assure you, that whoever the guilty people are, justice will be done. The advances in press freedom will remain intact”, the source, who requested anonymity, said.