UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
MAURITANIA: Algerian group claims responsibility for attack on military barracks
NOUAKCHOTT, 7 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - An Algerian group known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), on Tuesday claimed responsibility for a weekend attack on a Mauritanian military barracks in which at least 15 soldiers were killed, some with their throats slit.
In a communiqué posted on its website, the Islamist group said that the attack on a remote desert barracks close to the Algerian and Malian borders, was carried out to avenge the imprisonment of other Islamists in Mauritania.
"The action was in revenge for the violence perpetrated against our brothers in prison," said the communiqué.
The authenticity of the document posted late on Monday, and available on www.jihad-algerie.com could not be validated and came after the Mauritanian government already had blamed the GSPC for the attack in a press conference on Sunday.
Since mid-March, President Maaouiya Ould Taya has carried out a series of arrests against people described as Islamic militants. Over thirty remain in detention.
However, local religious leaders and the Brussels-based think-tank, the International Crisis Group, say Ould Taya is using Western fears of Islamic fundamentalism and global terrorism as a pretext to muzzle his political opponents.
Ould Taya seized power in a 1984 coup and has survived three attempted coups in the last two years.
The GSPC was set up in 1998 born out of the Islamist resistance movement to a secular government in Algeria.
Though originally active only in Algeria, a crackdown by increasingly better-trained and equipped security forces at home has led GSPC and its members to become increasingly active across the borders.
In previous statements issued by the group, the GSPC has outlined its intention to fully participate in attacks against the United States and its partners.
Mauritania is an Islamic republic, but Ould Taya angered many Arab states when he established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1999, in what critics said was a bid to curry favour with the US.
In what was seen as a further bid to woo the superpower, Ould Taya dropped relations with then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein shortly before the US-led invasion.
According to the US state department, GSPC is linked to Al-Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre, and some of the original members of the GSPC fought with Al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden, in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union.
Mauritania is an impoverished and vast desert country but recent deep sea oil discoveries off its Atlantic coast promise to send government revenues soaring, albeit from a very low base.
On the basis of discoveries announced so far, oil analysts expect production to reach 165,000 barrels per day in 2009. At current prices of over US $50 per barrel, that would pour an extra $300 million a year.
That's equivalent to 25 percent of GNI in 2001, according to figures from the World Bank.
But as more and more shiny new four wheel drives appear on the dusty streets of the capital Nouakchott, critics doubt that the oil bonanza will do much to assist the majority of Mauritanians who are illiterate and struggle to survive on less than one dollar a day.
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