Mauritania foils AQIM attack
By Mohamed Ould Khattat and Mohamed Yahya Ould Abdel Wedoud for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 03/02/11
Mauritanian soldiers on Wednesday (February 2nd) prevented an al-Qaeda attack on Nouakchott by killing three terrorists before they could reach their target.
The incident began when a Republican Guard (BASEP) patrol observed two suspicious vehicles between Toujounine and Riyadh, some 12 kilometres from the capital. After an exchange of gunfire, one of the SUVs exploded. Eight soldiers were wounded in the firefight.
"They sustained light wounds, except for one soldier who sustained wounds to his head. He will be transferred overseas for treatment, but his condition is stable," Defence Minister Hamadi Ould Hamadi said at a Wednesday press conference.
An al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) member was captured. "In the investigations that were conducted with him, he said that one of the two car bombs was targeting a military barracks in Nouakchott while the other was targeting the French Embassy," Ould Hamadi said.
"It's clear that our security strategy is effective as neither of the two cars managed to hit its target," the minister said. "In this way, the planned attack was thwarted."
The army has been on high alert since Friday, following reports of three suspicious vehicles in the Nema region, near the Mali border. On Sunday night, a Toyota Land Cruiser – the same type of vehicle involved in the Wednesday explosion – approached the entrance to the barracks of the 6th Military Region in Toujounine.
The day before the failed attack, security forces discovered an AQIM car bomb in R'kiz, Trarza wilaya, 200km south of Nouakchott. The search continues for two other vehicles.
AQIM claimed responsibility for the operation in a telephone call to ANI, saying that the attack was "meant to assassinate President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz". The terrorist organisation spokesperson also alleged that there were only two occupants in the vehicle, who detonated the bomb before the soldiers approached. The minister dismissed out of hand AQIM's version of the events.
Meanwhile, the Union for the Republic (UPR) issued a statement praising "brave armed and security forces (who) thwarted the Machiavellian plan by a terrorist gang". The ruling party said that the terrorists "slipped in under cover to carry out their vile plans".
In a statement to Magharebia, the UPR said, "Under these circumstances, we call on all key figures, and all the Mauritanian people, to remain vigilant and to work with honest determination alongside our armed forces and our brave soldiers in the heroic defence of our country's honour."
The attempted attack caused panic and shock among Nouakchott residents.
"It was 2:00 AM and I was asleep with my family," Mohamed Ould Ahmed, a resident of Arafat province, told Magharebia. "All of a sudden, the corners of the house were shaken due to a strong explosion. We all woke up in panic and were terrified. Many of the neighbourhood residents also woke up and started to inquire about the source of explosion."
"After a few minutes that were filled with shock and apprehension, ambulances started to flock to the place. After that, we knew that it was car bomb. It was really a terrifying morning," he added.
According to Ould Ahmed, this is "the first time ever that a car bomb has exploded in capital Nouakchott. No one would have imagined that this could happen here in Mauritania."
The assault is a proof that terrorism "cannot be justified, neither in religion nor in good manners", imam Ali Ould Mohamed said.
"Therefore, we must confront the phenomenon of extremism and fanaticism that is undoubtedly alien to the behaviour of the Mauritanian people who are known for being open-heated and lovers of good for all people regardless of their origins and ethnicities," he said.
"The scholars of this country have all agreed to condemn extremism and terrorism of all its forms. The Mauritanian authorities have opened the door for those who denounce violence, repent and lay down arms. They were pardoned and now live happily with their families. I hope that everyone will follow in their footsteps and repent to God," Ould Mohamed concluded.
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