UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
MAURITANIA: Terrorist cell said linked to Al Qaeda dismantled, police
NOUAKCHOTT, 28 Apr 2005 (IRIN) - The government of Mauritania claims to have arrested the leaders of a terrorist cell that the US military has linked to Al Qaeda.
The detainees are allegedly part of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), close to the outlawed Armed Islamic Group (GIA) that has operated in neighbouring Algeria for more than a decade, said a government statement issued this week.
"The dismantling of this structure has entered a new phase with the arrest on Monday ... of the main leaders of the organisation," read the statement.
The statement said seven people had been arrested but police sources said 18 suspects had been placed under arrest in two days of raids against alleged Islamists.
According to police, the detentions followed the departure a few weeks ago of 20 Mauritanians sent to train in guerrilla camps in the remote southern Algerian desert.
Seven of them were arrested on their return to Mauritania, the others were on a wanted list, the statement added.
According to US military intelligence, the GIA is close to Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda movement, blamed for the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.
Sources close to the Islamists told IRIN that the government has drawn up a wanted list of some 70 people that police have been given a special mandate to arrest.
However, some on the list are political figures who were released from prison earlier this year after being implicated in a failed coup in June 2004.
Since the failed rebellion against President Maaouiya Ould Taya, scores of political opponents have been arrested.
The think-tank, International Crisis Group, said in a report early this month that Ould Taya had used the terrorist threat as a thinly veiled pretext to persecute his political opponents, but this had only served to fuel instability in the country.
Oil has recently been discovered in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and diplomats say Ould Taya is keen to foster closer relations with the United States.
Washington in 2004 launched a Pan-Sahel initiative to strengthen the anti-terrorist capacity of regional security forces. The United States began to regard the Sahel as a new breeding ground for Islamic terrorists three years ago, when the Salafists kidnapped two groups of European tourists in southern Algeria and held them for ransom.
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