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Al Qaeda suspects killed in Mauritania car blast

February 3, 2011

Reuters, 2 Feb 2011: As many as three suspected al Qaeda militants were killed when their vehicle exploded during a gunfight with Mauritanian soldiers on the outskirts of the capital early on Wednesday, a security source said.

The vehicle was one of three that crossed illegally into the West African country from Mali over the weekend, leading the Mauritanian military in a pursuit through the desert, security sources said.

“According to initial conclusions by the Mauritanian army, three insurgents may have died in the SUV explosion. It is still difficult to be certain as the car was completely destroyed and the corpses are in pieces,” a Mauritanian security official said on condition of anonymity.

Another source said several Mauritanian soldiers were lightly injured in the blast, which occurred after soldiers and the suspected insurgents exchanged fire.

Mauritanian authorities had hours earlier captured another vehicle carrying explosives and weapons and detained several suspected members of al Qaeda’s north African wing, a separate security source told Reuters on Tuesday.

A third vehicle had been found empty.

Mauritania is among several countries in the Sahara region where al Qaeda-linked fighters have raised their profile in a wave of attacks and kidnappings.

The blast at around 0200 GMT woke residents in the southern outskirts of Nouakchott, about 12 km (7 miles) from the city centre.

Mauritanian emergency officials were not immediately available to comment publicly, and security forces blocked access to the military hospital.

Al Qaeda’s north African wing, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), grew out of the militant Salafist movement in Algeria and has shifted south where it is taking advantage of a vast and lawless desert.

Suspected AQIM fighters killed four French tourists in Mauritania in 2007, and Mauritania’s army said last year it foiled a car bomb attack on a military base in Nema.

AQIM has also claimed responsibility for the abduction of two French nationals found dead after a failed rescue attempt in Niger last month, and is believed to be holding five other French nationals kidnapped in Niger last year.

Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Algeria have been trying to coordinate military efforts to counter the growing threat.

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