- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AP) | Al Qaeda’s North African branch has claimed responsibility for the killing of an American aid worker shot dead this week in Mauritania’s capital, Al-Jazeera TV reported Thursday.

The Arab satellite TV station aired an audio statement purportedly issued by al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb spokesman Salah Abu Mohammed, who said the group killed 39-year-old Christopher Ervin Leggett on Tuesday because he was purportedly trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

“Two knights of the Islamic Maghreb succeeded Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. to kill the infidel American Christopher Leggett for his Christianizing activities,” the statement said.

The statement’s authenticity could not be independently verified.

Mauritania’s Interior Ministry said Thursday that it was investigating the death and security forces were doing “all they can to catch the criminals.”

In neighboring Senegal, U.S. Gen. William “Kip” Ward, head of the U.S. military command responsible for Africa, denounced the attack during a news conference in the capital, Dakar. Gen. Ward called Mr. Leggett’s slaying “deplorable.” He said the American response to the terrorist group’s activities was focused on increasing the capacities of partner nations to deal with such threats, in part through military training.

Extremist violence in Mauritania, a moderate Muslim nation, has increased in recent years. In 2007, a group of French picnickers was killed. The gunmen were thought to be linked to al Qaeda’s North Africa branch, and the incident prompted organizers of the famous Dakar Rally to cancel the trans-Sahara car race.

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