Mauritania Holds Bomb Plot Suspect

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-By SHEIKH BEKAYE Associated Press Writer

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AP) – A Mauritanian suspected of plotting
a bomb attack against the United States, and who reportedly has
links to the millionaire fugitive Osama bin Laden, has been arrested
in Mauritania, security officials said Friday.

Mohambedou Ould Slahi was being held at the offices of the Bureau of
Mauritanian Security, said the officials, who spoke on condition of
anonymity. He was arrested in this West African nation after leaving
neighboring Senegal on Wednesday, they said.

Slahi, who had been living in Canada, left there in part because of
an investigation into an alleged bomb plot U.S. authorities say was
tied to bin Laden, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said
Thursday.

U.S. officials accuse Bin Laden, a Saudi believed to be living in
Afghanistan, of masterminding the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies
in Kenya and Tanzania. Those attacks killed 224 people, including
12 Americans.

In Washington, a federal law enforcement official said Friday that
U.S. officials want to question Slahi. But the official, who also
spoke on condition of anonymity, would not say whether the U.S.
government would try to bring Slahi to the United States or would
question him in Mauritania.

The Senegalese newspaper Walfadjri reported Friday that Slahi had
been detained for a few hours at the Dakar airport after arriving
from Paris. He was questioned and then allowed to travel to the
Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, the paper reported.

Walfadjri, quoting unidentified police sources, said Slahi was
questioned because his name was on an Interpol list of people to
watch.

Slahi’s family, Arabs who were originally nomads who ranged across
the Sahara Desert, settled in a crumbling apartment building in
Bouhdida, just outside Nouakchott, when drought ravaged the region
in the 1970s.

On Friday, Slahi’s mother, who identified herself only as Fatima,
denied her son would be involved in a bomb plot.

“My son is not the kind of person who can kill,’’ she said, as
more than a dozen female relatives, and one teen-age boy, gathered
in a cramped apartment. “At the end, you will see that it all was
a big lie.’’

She described him as a deeply religious man who “cries when a
member of the family has a simple injury.’’

Dan Lambert, a spokesman for Canadian intelligence, said Thursday
that Slahi left Canada sometime after authorities uncovered the
alleged plot on Dec. 14 when they arrested Ahmed Ressam for allegedly
trying to smuggle bomb-making components into the United States.

Ressam, an Algerian, pleaded innocent Thursday in federal court in
Seattle to charges of planning a terrorist bombing.

Three other Algerian nationals and a woman married to an Algerian are
in custody, and police in the United States and Canada are searching
for another Algerian.

According to a report in The New York Times, Slahi’s brother-in-law
is one of bin Laden’s top lieutenants. However, a U.S. law enforcement
official said Thursday on condition of anonymity that U.S. investigators
are unsure of this.

U.S. investigators are also not sure if Slahi was a major figure in
the bombing plot, or just a minor messenger, the official said in
Washington.

No specific evidence has been released linking bin Laden to the newly
alleged bombing plot. Authorities have not said what the targets of
that plot might have been.

Before Slahi left Montreal, he shared a small room at the Assunna Mosque,
said Bahaa Elbatal, the mosque’s secretary.

Elbatal said Slahi needed a place to stay in early January, and left Jan.
21. “I never felt he was a dangerous person,’’ he said.

Investigators told the Times that Slahi was in contact with a construction
company in Sudan that was owned by bin Laden and was a front for bin Laden’s
international organization, al-Qaeda

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