News24

Mauritania foils terror attack

2011-02-02 21:08

Nouakchott - Security forces opened fire on a car loaded with explosives early on Wednesday as it attempted to speed into the capital, setting off an enormous explosion and killing three suspected al-Qaeda-linked terrorists, an official said.

Authorities had been tracking the suspicious vehicle and two others since Friday when they entered the country from northern Mali, Col Mohamed Ould Ahmed told The Associated Press.

The Toyota Land Cruiser carrying more than a ton of explosives was headed for military and government buildings when security forces decided to shoot at it, the colonel said. An enormous explosion rocked the neighbourhood of Ryad at about 03:00.

"The car was transporting three terrorists trying to infiltrate the capital by launching a kamikaze attack," said the colonel, who added that eight Mauritanian soldiers were wounded.

Once a peaceful nation perched on the edge of the vast Sahara desert, Mauritania has become a staging ground for al-Qaeda's North Africa, which has bankrolled its operation by kidnapping foreigners for ransom across a wide swath of the Sahel region.

Ahmed said two suspects had been arrested on Tuesday after they abandoned an SUV full of explosives in the desert were suspected members of the group.

String of attacks

Security forces were still searching for the third vehicle, which was believed to be carrying water, gas and video equipment. Ahmed said that they were confident they would find and arrest the three suspects in that car.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or Aqim, has its roots in an extremist Islamic group in Algeria that brokered an alliance with the terror network in 2006. Since then, Aqim has kidnapped more than a dozen Europeans including tourists and aid workers, and with each abduction their tactics have become more bold.

They stormed a heavily guarded residential compound in northern Niger late last year, seizing five French hostages and two others from Togo and Madagascar. Aqim gunmen also grabbed two Frenchmen from a restaurant in Niger's capital last month, and the men were found dead less than 24 hours later.

Aqim has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks in Mauritania, including the 2009 killing of 39-year-old American Christopher Ervin Leggett in Mauritania's capital.

In late 2007, gunmen also murdered four picnicking French tourists in Mauritania's countryside. Those killings prompted organisers of the famed cross-continental Dakar Rally race to move the event to South America.