BY SHEIKH BEKAYE Associated Press Writer
NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania — 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
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,
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
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
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
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 bombmaking
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
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.