By BosNewsLife Africa Service
NOAUKCHOTT, MAURITANIA (BosNewsLife)– An American aid worker has been shot and killed in Mauritania by suspected Islamic militants of the Al-Qaida network because he was involved in spreading Christianity in the African nation, several Christian groups confirmed Friday, June 26.
Christopher Leggett “was confronted” Tuesday, June 23, “outside the language and computer school that he ran” in the capital Nouakchott, said Middle East Concern (MEC), which has contacts with Christians in the region.
“He resisted what appeared to be an attempt to kidnap him and was then shot in the head several times by his two assailants,” MEC told BosNewsLife.
Al-Jazeera Television, the Arabic news channel, said Al-Qaida’s North Africa branch claimed responsibility Thursday, June 24 for the killing. The network added that it had received an audio statement from al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb in which the group claimed it killed 39-year-old Christopher Ervin Leggett for allegedly 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 group said. The statement’s authenticity could not be independently verified, but Christians recalled that other foreigners were also been killed by militants in recent years.
Al-Qaida militants reportedly also claimed responsibility for the murder of four French tourists in December 2007, an incident that occurred in a rural location, MEC said. The killings prompted organizers of the famous Dakar Rally to cancel the trans-Sahara car race.
Mauritania’s Interior Ministry said Thursday it was investigating Leggett’s the death and security forces were doing “all they can to catch the criminals.”
Leggett grew up in Cleveland, Tennessee, and taught at a center specializing in computer science and languages in El Kasr, a lower-class neighborhood in Nouakchott, his neighbors in the United States told reporters.
Reverend Jim Gibson, co-pastor of First Baptist Church of Cleveland, said in published remarks that Leggett was a church member and attended on return trips, but worked independently in Mauritania. Gibson said Leggett had lived for six years in Africa with his wife and four children.
His death has raised concerns about the situation of the tiny Christian minority and Christian expatriates in the country.
“He has tragically become one more martyr in the rising tide of Christian persecution throughout the world,” said U.S.-based advocacy group Christian Freedom International (CFI) in a statement. “CFI commends Mr. Leggett’s brave commitment to proclaiming the Gospel in a nation that has grown increasingly hostile to the Christian faith, and is profoundly concerned about the welfare and safety of other Christians in the region.”
Funeral arrangements were not immediately clear.
MEC told supporters in a letter that Christians in Mauritania had requested prayers for protection and that “Chris’ wife and children will know the comfort and presence of Jesus” as well as his colleagues in Mauritania and other relatives Christians in Mauritania, which is officially “100 percent Muslim” have also asked prayers that those responsible “will be identified and brought to justice” and for stability ahead of a presidential poll in July, MEC said.
Independent from France in 1960, the country of over 3 million people seen religious and political instability. A bloodless coup in August 2005 deposed President Taya and ushered in a military council that oversaw a transition to democratic rule, observers said.
Independent candidate Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was inaugurated in April 2007 as what American officials termed “the country’s first freely and fairly elected president.” However his term ended prematurely in August 2008 when a military junta deposed him, setting up a military council government.
Ahead of the presidential elections, the country also continues to experience ethnic tensions among its black population (Afro-Mauritanians) and White and Black Moor (Arab-Berber) communities, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).