Mauritania jails Canadian for two years for terrorist conspiracy

Tue Apr 9, 2013 3:54pm EDT
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NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - A 24-year-old Canadian man held in Mauritania was sentenced to two years in prison for terrorist conspiracy in the West African state, according to judicial documents seen by Reuters.

According to the court documents, Aaron Yoon, from London in the Canadian province of Ontario, was sentenced last July by a Nouakchott criminal court to two years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of 5 million ouguiyas ($18,000).

A local security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Yoon was arrested in late December 2011 as he prepared to join Islamist fighters in northern Mali, together with some young Mauritanians.

His trial was not made public and his detention only recently came to light. It highlights, however, how a number of people with Western nationalities has passed through the desert nation to join al Qaeda-linked fighters in neighboring Mali.

The court documents said Yoon declared he was recruited by an Islamist named Mohammed El-Hafed, who made him listen to jihadi tapes and then asked him to join the camps.

Yoon told Mauritanian authorities he arrived in Mauritania via Morocco to study Arabic and Koran, attracted by the prestigious reputation of its religious schools.

Mauritania is renowned for its religious scholars and the quality of its koranic schools, attracting Muslims from around the world.

Last week, Canadian authorities confirmed the identities of two other English-speaking nationals from London, Ontario who took part in a mass hostage taking in January on a natural gas facility in Algeria. Investigators believe the attack was led by notorious al Qaeda militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

About 70 people, including the two Canadians, died when Algerian troops stormed the In Amenas desert gas plant. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police identified the two as Xristos Katsiroubas and Ali Medlej.

Canadian media reported that Yoon attended school with the two dead men and that he was raised a Catholic before converting to Islam at high school. Canadian reports said Katsiroubas had converted from the Greek Orthodox faith to Islam.

(Reporting by Laurent Prieur; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Mark Heinrich)