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Mauritania Arrests Terror Suspects


Mauritanian officials are pursuing terrorism charges against five men they say belong to a radical terror group with ties to Osama bin Laden. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Mauritania's director of national intelligence services, Mohamed Abdallahi Taleb Abeidi, tells VOA that police have arrested five men accused of participating in terrorist activities.

He says security forces received information that the men belong to a terrorist group. Abeidi says throughout north Africa, groups inspired by al-Qaida are active.

The intelligence director adds the men have been charged and will be prosecuted. He did not give details about their alleged criminal activities.

Mauritanian lawyers have accused the police of extracting confessions through torture, which intelligence director Abeidi has denied.

Lawyer Limam Mohamed Cheikh has defended Islamists accused of ties to terrorists. He says the most recent arrests follow the same pattern as previous detentions.

He says the names of the detained men have not been released and that a recent change in the country's penal code allows terrorism suspects to be held up to 15 days without access to a lawyer.

Officials have, to date, not discovered terrorist training camps in Mauritania.

But analyst Anneli Botha with the Cape Town-based Institute for Security Studies says the Algerian-based group formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat may be active in Mauritania. The group recently changed its name to al-Qaida in Islamic Maghreb, and is allied with bin Laden.

"The GSPC [Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat], al-Qaida in Islamic Maghreb, realize they cannot focus on Algeria only anymore," said Botha. "They need to broaden their horizons a bit. They will look for people with similar ideas to form part of a broader structure."

In two recent trials of more than 30 Islamists, Mauritanian courts dropped all terrorism charges.