Mauritania says it is stepping up attacks against al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists across the border in Mali after this week's killing of three suspected militants outside the Mauritanian capital.
Defense Minister Hamady Ould Hamady says all of the suspected terrorists captured and killed outside Nouakchott this week crossed the border from Mali.
Hamady says this proves the wisdom of Mauritania attacking terrorists at their bases in Mali, and the military will step-up those attacks as part of a strategy to defeat terrorists who threaten national security.
Three suspected terrorists were killed Wednesday when their vehicle exploded about 20 kilometers outside Nouakchott. Eight Mauritanian soldiers were wounded in the blast.
Authorities believe the vehicle was packed with explosives because security forces stopped a second vehicle that Hamady says was carrying one and and half tons of explosives plus rockets and other weapons. Suspected terrorists in a third vehicle escaped.
On interrogation, Hamady says suspected terrorists in the second vehicle confessed that their targets were a Mauritanian military barracks and the French Embassy. A statement attributed to the group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb that was published in an independent newspaper said the target was Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb killed four French tourists in Mauritania in 2007 and shot dead a U.S. aid worker in Nouakchott in 2009 before bombing the French Embassy there shortly after President Aziz was elected.
The group claims responsibility for last month's kidnaping of two French nationals in Niger who were found dead after a failed rescue attempt. The group continues to hold five French engineers and construction consultants from Togo and Madagascar who were abducted from a huge French uranium mine in Niger.
Mauritania's campaign against Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is more aggressive than most of its Sahelian neighbors, not only attacking suspected terrorists in Mali but also joining with French troops in an unsuccessful bid to free a hostage who was later killed.
Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger are working on a joint plan of action to confront the group, which is thought to be reorganizing in the desert along the borders of Algeria, Mali, and Niger.