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New Attack in Mauritania Raises Fears of Terrorism

Mauritania is investigating a second deadly attack less than five days after four French tourists were killed. The government is blaming the killings on a terrorist organization. In the latest attack, four soldiers were killed near the country's northern border. Naomi Schwarz has more from VOA's West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

Spokesman for Mauritania's Interior Minister Mohammed Lamine Shah confirmed there was an attack near a military post in remote northern Mauritania.

Shah says the investigation has begun, but so far few details are known. He says that part of the country is vast and sparsely populated and therefore hard to investigate.

News agencies are reporting a unit near the small El-Ghallawiya military base tried to intercept two vehicles driving through the desert region. The cars fled and opened fire on the soldiers, killing several and seizing their weapons.

The gunmen's identities are not yet known, but two years ago Islamic militant terrorists killed 15 soldiers in the same region.

Local journalist Salem Bokari says some in the government are also linking this attack to terrorists.

"The prime minister of Mauritania, Zeine Ould Zeidane, told the deputies in the national assembly that the armed men are belonging to the terrorist group," Bokari said.

This is the second attack in Mauritania in less than a week. Mauritania law enforcement officials are working with counterparts in Mali and Senegal to track down three suspects in the last fatal shooting, that Mauritanian officials blame on a branch of al-Qaida based in neighboring Algeria.

Journalist Bokari says such attacks have been very rare in Mauritania in the past, but the two latest incidents indicate the situation is changing.

"Something is sure, this is the beginning of something," Bokari said. "This is a beginning of a very big challenge for Mauritanian security and armed services."

In just two weeks, hundreds of participants from the world-famous Dakar Rally will pass through Mauritania in the course of the two-week road race from Europe to Senegal.

Now, organizers have flown to Mauritania's capital, Nouakchott, to meet with government officials to go over safety precautions for the race.

Interior minister spokesman Shah says this week's violence should not interfere with the rally. He says Mauritania has taken all possible measures to ensure the security of the rally, overseen by a committee including the army, police, and rally organizers.