updated 6/23/2009 9:46:13 AM ET 2009-06-23T13:46:13

Gunmen attempting to kidnap an American man in Mauritania on Tuesday shot and killed him when he tried to resist, a police officer in the West African nation said.

Neighbors said the middle-aged man taught at a center specializing in computer science in El Kasr, a lower-class neighborhood in Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital.

Two men had initially tried to abduct him, but they shot him when they realized they could not overpower him, said the police officer, who did not give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Witness Bilal Ould Mohamed, a butcher, said he saw at least two young men rush up to the victim and shoot him several times in the head and face. Mohamed said he tried to stop them, but they pointed their gun at him before running off.

An AP correspondent at the scene saw officials from the U.S. Embassy arrive as the body lay on the pavement.

The embassy in Nouakchott could not immediately be reached for comment. The victim's identity was not immediately released.

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

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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