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Mauritanian Officials Interrogate al Qaida-Linked Suspects About French Tourist Murder

Mauritanian authorities are interrogating two al Qaida-linked suspects in the murder of four French tourists. These latest arrests were in Guinea-Bissau, after a manhunt was conducted for the men across Senegal, Mali, and neighboring countries. Naomi Schwarz has more on the story from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

Local journalist Salem Bokari says Mauritanian police are interrogating two men, Mohamed Ould Sidi Chabarnou and Sidi Ould Sidna, accused of killing four French tourists just before Christmas. But he says they have not yet been charged.

"Right now we are waiting for a period of detainment which is fifteen days according to the Mauritanian law, they have to stay with the police for interrogation 15 days," Bokari said.

A third man suspected in the killings is still on the loose.

All three men are suspected to have links to the Algerian Salafist terrorist group who have affiliated themselves with al Qaida.

Authorities say the men attended terrorist training camp in Algeria. Bokari says the government unsuccessfully detained them last year.

"They were tried by Mauritanian court and they were released because they have done nothing, but right now, we know that they are, according to the Mauritanian justice, they will be tried for terrorism and the murder of French tourists," Bokari said.

The men were arrested on Friday in the capital of Guinea-Bissau, after an international manhunt that also included Mali and Senegal. Both men, Mauritanian citizens in their twenties, were then extradited to Mauritania.

U.N. Office on Drug and Crime's Antonio Mazzitelli says the arrest is good news, but it shows that border control is still a major problem in West Africa.

"What is happening in Guinea-Bissau is certainly encouraging, even if we cannot forget that these people managed to cross all Mauritania, all Senegal, before ending up in Guinea-Bissau," Mazzitelli said.

Mazzitelli says the successful manhunt shows what is possible with strong political will and when information is shared.

But he says there appears to be a growing trend towards terrorism in the Sahel region, which includes Mauritania, and that the real focus should be on prevention.

"But rather than chasing after criminals who have already committed a crime, the preventive action should certainly be prioritized. Authorities should know exactly what people are doing on their territory," Mazzitelli said.

The annual Dakar Rally, a race that passes through Mauritania, and which would have celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, was canceled due to fear of terrorism after the murders.