Al Qaeda claims to have killed 19 Mauritanian soldiers
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Al Qaeda's North African wing has claimed a "crushing defeat" over Mauritanian security forces after a battle over the weekend in which it says 19 soldiers were killed.
AFP - Al-Qaeda's north African wing claimed to have killed 19 soldiers during a weekend offensive by the Mauritanian army, in a communique published Wednesday by the online Nouakchott News.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said it lost only one of its fighters and accused Mauritanian officials of lying about the death toll "to cover up their crushing defeat."
Mauritanian military sources had reported a death toll of eight soldiers and at least 12 AQIM fighters after a series of strikes against Al-Qaeda positions from Friday to Sunday.
A security source told AFP that six men with suspected ties to AQIM had also been "taken prisoner" by the Mauritanian army.
The north African branch of Osama bin Laden's terror network said it had also injured "dozens of soldiers", captured five vehicles and destroyed two others.
Nouakchott has strongly denied reports from several witnesses that two civilian women were killed and four men injured in the air raid.
The statement issued on the online news agency could not be verified, however Nouakchott News has previously issued uncontested releases from AQIM.
It also said that French soldiers took part in the fighting: "It seems very likely that a small number of French troops were present on the side of the defeated Mauritanian army."
"It is clear that Ould Abdel Aziz (Mauritania's president) has decided to conduct a proxy war on behalf of his French masters, not only in Mauritania but outside their country," said the communique.
"The mujahedeen will respond with firmness and strength to all the assaults of the French agents."
Mauritania's ruling party has called for support from citizens in a "holy war against the terrorists" who "tarnish the image of Muslims."
"Our army is determined to take revenge" after "barbaric attacks" which have plagued the country since 2005, said the president of the ruling Union of the Republic (UPR), Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamed Lemine.
The Mauritanian offensive in neighbouring Mali has not been officially linked to the kidnapping last week of seven hostages in Niger, who are now believed to be held by AQIM in northeastern Mali near the Algerian border.
The seven are five French nationals, a Togolese and a Madagascan.