The Mauritanian military is hunting suspected al-Qaida operatives who ambushed a group of government soldiers.

Security sources said Wednesday that 12 Mauritanian soldiers are missing from Monday's attack when gunmen ambushed an army unit patrolling the desert near Tourine.

The military had initially said the 12 soldiers were killed. It blamed the attack on al-Qaida's branch in North Africa, and said the army is mobilized to keep the gunmen from leaving the country.

The attack came nearly a month after al-Qaida's North African branch called for a holy war in the country to avenge the August sixth overthrow of former President Sidi Ould Cheik Abdallahi.

Military leaders deposed Mr. Abdallahi, the country's first democratically elected president, after he dismissed several top army officers.

Al-Qaida's North African branch accused coup leaders of acting with the approval of the United States, France and Israel. The group posted a statement on the Internet calling for war.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.