NOUAKCHOTT // A suicide bomber attacked a military barracks in eastern Mauritania early today but was foiled by troops who fired on his vehicle and blew it up, a senior military official said. The would-be bomber tried to ram his four-wheel drive vehicle into the barracks before soldiers fired on the vehicle, sparking a "big explosion" which caused heavy damage, the official said. No other deaths were reported, though witnesses said three people were slightly injured.
The incident in Nema, some 1,200 kilometres east of the capital Nouakchott and close to the border with Mali, happened shortly after midnight. The senior military official attributed the foiled attack to al Qa'eda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The failed attack comes a month after the Mauritanian army launched an offensive on AQIM bases over the border in Mali to pre-empt a strike on military bases at home.
French forces joined in one attack on July 22 in a bid to free the 78-year-old French hostage Michel Germaneau, who was later executed by AQIM. Seven AQIM militia were killed in that raid, and the al Qa'eda group has threatened Mauritania and France with reprisals. Earlier this week, the group released two Spanish hostages held captive in the Sahara for nine months after securing the release of the kidnap mastermind and a reported ransom.
An important part of the hostages' freedom was Mauritania's extradition to Mali of the convicted mastermind of the Spaniards' kidnapping, who sold his captives on to al Qa'eda. Omar Sid Ahmed Ould Hamma, a 52-year-old also known as Omar the Sahrawi, said he was a free man in Mali. Mauritanian security forces have regularly been targeted in attacks, which forced the cancellation in 2008 of the Dakar Rally, which has since been held in South America.
AQIM has previously claimed responsibility for the killing of an American aid worker shot dead in June last year in a Nouakchott street. Mauritania's first suicide bombing occurred in August last year when an attacker detonated a belt packed with explosives outside the French embassy in Nouakchott. Two French policemen and a Mauritanian citizen were injured. * AFP