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Police clash with gunmen in Mauritanian capital

Latest update : 2008-04-07

The clashes with Islamist gunmen in Nouakchott took place just days after the escape of a suspected al Qaeda militant accused of killing four French tourists, according to security officials.

NOUAKCHOTT, April 7 (Reuters) - Mauritanian police clashed
with Islamist gunmen in the capital Nouakchott on Monday, days
after the escape of a suspected al Qaeda militant accused of
killing four French tourists, a gendarmerie colonel said.
 

A Reuters reporter saw scores of police and gendarmerie
officers, some with assault rifles, others wielding heavier guns
mounted on vehicles, on a road leading north from Nouakchott as
shots rang out after dark on Monday.
 

"It's a clash with the Salafists (Islamists)," said a
gendarmerie colonel at the scene.
 

Nearby residents who poured out of their homes to watch the
drama unfold, some trying to take photos of police with their
cellphones, said one dead body had been carried away as well as
several wounded.
 

Some said the dead person was a policeman, but that could
not be immediately confirmed.
 

Arabic TV stations Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya reported that
people were killed and wounded in the shooting, but gave no
precise figures.
 

Al Arabiya linked the shooting to the escape of Sidi Ould
Sidna, who gave police the slip at the city's main law courts
last Wednesday after requesting he be left alone to pray.
 

Sidna, 20, is accused of murdering four French tourists as
they enjoyed a Christmas Eve picnic by a roadside in southern
Mauritania, one of several attacks in recent months which have
fuelled fears al Qaeda cells in Algeria and Morocco are moving
operations further south.
 

Al Jazeera's correspondent in Nouakchott told Reuters police
had encircled a handful of suspected Islamist militants at the
scene of Monday's shooting, not far from the city centre,
although it was not clear whether Sidna was among them.
 

Sidna's escape was a major embarrassment to the West African
country. Authorities quickly suspended officials connected with
the case and took the investigating magistrate, who conducted a
hearing with Sidna just before he escaped, off the case.
 

Impoverished Mauritania has tried to reassure tourists,
especially from former colonial ruler France.
 

But the annual Dakar rally, which was due to pass through
Mauritania in January, was cancelled for the first time in its
30-year history after the event's French organisers received
threats from "terrorist organisations".
 

Date created : 2008-04-07

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