Just a few short words about an incident that happened last week in Mauritania. A French family of five was attacked when they were picnicking on the roadside near Aleg in the south. They were robbed and then shot with automatic weapons, including the children. Only the father survived, and he is in hospital with multiple gun wounds.

This was reported all over the world and caused an outcry among the French. Is it safe to go to Mauritania? What had happened? Al Qaida took responsibility for the attack. There were reports of bombings along the Algerian border.

We talked to the French we met and also Moroccans who were discussing what had happened. The conclusion was that this was an act by regular criminal thugs and not an act of terrorists.

On the border station, I asked and one officer became agitated and said it was a shame what had happened for Mauritania. All the people had gone to the mosques and said “NON!”, the president had spoken on television and said “NON!”. This was wrong.

I think that after what happened, the roads in Mauritania are probably safer now than they have been before. The control is tightened and everybody driving around is en vigilant.

Addendum: on the Mali embassy in Nouakchott, the secretary took out the visas he had given to the French family. Turned out they were a father with two full grown sons and an Arab friend, no woman. Not the picture media had given, a nice little family with small children camping on the roadside and brutally assaulted by savages. Hmm.