Bouncing Bullets: The Accidental Shooting of a President


What was reported as an accidental shooting of president Mohammed ould Abdel Aziz in Mauritania on the evening of Saturday, 14 October has taken many twists and turns, with new versions emerging so often that everyone is thoroughly confused. It is important to note, most of these versions are not theories, but news stories being related to the media by various players in and around the ruling regime. All this storytelling takes place against the backdrop of Aziz and some of his entourage having flown to France, on Sunday, where he was admitted to the Percy Clamart* military hospital in the suburbs of  Paris, a fair distance from the centre. Aziz is reported to be recovering well from his ordeal although there is no firm news about his return.

Percy Clamart military hospital. New presidential headquarters of Mauritania

Most stories begin with Aziz returning southwards to the capital, Nouakchott, from his rural ranch near Akjoujt, in the westerly Inchiri region of the country. In all but one account Aziz was driving the vehicle, an unmarked Toyota Avensis Landcruiser V8, with 80% tinted windows and, under all but extremely unusual circumstances, this would be a specially adapted armoured car.

Mauritania was supposedly under a security alert due to a warning from an unidentified foreign power (best guess: France) about new terrorist threats. There was increased security – but not a nationwide state of emergency – and Aziz had cancelled his plans to attend the ‘Francophonie’ summit in Democratic Republic of the Congo because of the alert. This fact makes it highly unlikely that he would be driving, alone or in convoy, in a regular car. It should also indicate that his personal security team would be strongly opposed to any plans to go driving alone at night, even in familiar territory.

What everyone agrees on is that the president arrived in his car at the Nouakchott military hospital that Saturday evening alone, dressed in casual clothes and without an escort. The cousin who is mentioned in several accounts as having been a passenger in the vehicle at the time of the shooting was not present and has not made any official statement. I have been told by more than one contact in Mauritania that this cousin was not with Aziz, and has been accounted for at the time, but in the south of the country. This is important because otherwise, he has to be considered as a suspect for the shooting.

On the subject of who did the shooting, there are again several versions, most claiming that military personnel opened fire on the president’s car in error, after it failed to stop either at a checkpoint or near a military base between 35 and 45 kilometres from Nouakchott. The lone unmarked vehicle had not been recognised as belonging to the president and was assumed to be “hostile”. This raises serious questions about the standard operating procedures of Mauritanian security forces, and at the same time is strongly reminiscent of the Diabaly massacre in Mali a month earlier. Versions of who opened fire range from either a lone shooter or three men in a Mercedes 190 targeting the president deliberately, to two soldiers at the military base.

The news of Aziz having been shot began with typical uninformed drama: the first message which reached me claimed he had been shot in the head and was dead. The story evolved so that he was still alive but seriously injured, having been shot in various places on his body: neck, shoulder, arm, hand, stomach, and I think I also saw a leg mentioned at one point.  A large crowd had gathered outside the military hospital and rumours were rife. At this juncture, an official statement was released claiming Aziz was only slightly injured and would be making a public statement to reassure everyone. He did appear on national television on Sunday morning to say he was well, an emergency operation had been a success, and he would be going to Paris for further treatment. See my comment on this post for some highlights of questions arising from the spin.

It all seems too complicated to explain in words, and since there are no theories to speak of yet, I have made an illustration to present my own theory on how a bullet from 1-3 shooters could injure Aziz in several places:

How a man driving an armoured Toyota Landcruiser V8 can be shot in the shoulder/chest, and through the back, with the bullet exiting the stomach, and injuring the arm/hand before entering the bowel.

There is another story doing the rounds at the moment, and it does not involve any late-night solo driving in the desert or military bases, “distant” cousins or diagrams (thankfully!). This one says that Aziz was at a private house in Nouakchott in the company of a lady who is not his wife and was injured in a crime of passion. The rest of the details are too sordid for a quiet little blog like mine. At least in this alternative explanation they don’t have to produce a bullet-riddled vehicle or even any bullets, which are two examples of the many normal and expected things that have not happened.

*Clamart is where, on 22 August 1962 the French President Charles de Gaulle was the target of an assassination attempt organised by the French paramilitary group of OAS. Percy Clamart hospital is where Yasser Arafat died in 2004.

3 thoughts on “Bouncing Bullets: The Accidental Shooting of a President

  1. While wishing #Mauritania’s president Aziz a speedy recovery from his friendly fire fiasco, some of us are also contemplating certain pertinent observations, such as:

    1. Number one has to be: “Where is the car?”.
    2. The president’s choice of route being describe as one he used frequently, most weekends, and known to all, yet the official story has officers allegedly firing on his vehicle in apparent total oblivion of this “common knowledge”
    3. The coincidence of Aziz happening to drive past a military barracks in use by the Air Force (and under French military training) at a time when it had just been reported a few days earlier that several members of that branch of the services had resigned in frustration. Admittedly, there was little interest in carrying the report, and it was roundly rejected by several commentators, yet it found its way onto one local news website and – most surprisingly – the site of al Jazeera Arabic.
    4. Every army general in Mauritania just happening to be in Nouakchott and available to convene in the meeting which was called in reaction to the shooting. Not one of them was away, on leave or assignment.
    5. The increased security that had begun about a week earlier, very strongly visible in Nouakchott, evaporated almost as soon as Aziz arrived at the military hospital there (there are reports security has again increased today)
    6. The frequent assertions that Aziz’ cousin Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz was with him, when his presence in Mederdrah has been confirmed.
    7. Another frequently mentioned detail is Aziz’ significant loss of blood. While dramatic, this reduces the likelihood of him being able to drive 45km to the military hospital alone without losing conciousness.
    8. Additionally, the very uncharacteristic decision of the COD opposition parties coalition to suspend their protest activities in sympathy with their arch enemy, an announcement which followed a 2 hour meeting between one of the opposition leaders, Mohammed Ould Moloud, and a representative from France. [Mr Ould Moloud has recently returned from a lengthy stay in France for medical treatment and it is to be expected that he has made contacts among the political elite there.]
    9. The presence in France for medical treatment of the President of the Senate, who is the successor the president in case of resignation or incapacity, raises very genuine questions about the possibility of (yet another) constitutional vacuum.

      There are three Vice Presidents of the Senate, so if their constitution stipulates that they succeed the Senate president in case of incapacity there are some legal options. However, the entire Senate was elected to a 5-year term in January 2007 and is now, like the rest of the elected government, operating illegally with an expired mandate. Aziz remains the only elected official in Mauritania.

    See the main post above this comment for more details on the kaleidoscopic variation of explanations for the shooting incident that is said to have injured Aziz.

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