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Mauritania, Mali Military Attack Al-Qaida Base in Sahel

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Mauritania and Mali say they have destroyed an al-Qaida-affiliated base camp and are pursuing terrorists who fled along their common border. Security forces in Africa's Sahel region are on high alert following last month's killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Mauritanian army spokesman Colonel Teyib Ould Brahim says there were casualties on both sides when Mauritanian and Malian troops attacked a well-defended al-Qaida camp in the Wagadou forest region.

Brahim told reporters in Nouakchott that the attack killed 15 members of the group known as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Nine terrorists were captured by Malian forces. Brahim says five Mauritanian soldiers were wounded and two killed during the raid.

He says the joint operation with Malian forces targeted a well-organized al-Qaida base about 70 kilometers from the Mauritanian border that he says was run by criminal gangs and defended by deep trenches and landmines.

Brahim says soldiers are still searching the forest for surviving fighters because the government in Nouakchott is determined to remove all threats to Mauritanian security.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb uses bases in Mali and Niger for kidnapping operations targeting foreign nationals, including last September's abduction of engineers from a French uranium mine in Niger.

The group used that assault to portray itself as defending the people of the Sahel against foreign commercial exploitation with a statement accusing the French nuclear energy firm Areva of stealing the region's strategic resources. The statement said foreign companies exploiting the natural resources of the Sahel are legitimate targets of Muslim freedom fighters.

Mauritiania, Mali, Niger and Algeria are working together against the group that began in Algeria in 1998 as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. They changed their name following the September 2001 attacks in the United States to more closely ally themselves with the broader al-Qaida movement.

Sahelian security forces have been on high alert since U.S. forces last month killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. There is concern about both revenge attacks and the group's potential access to weapons and explosives in the chaos of the uprising against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Article by Scott Stearns, VOA News