NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania — A Mauritanian who reportedly has links to Saudi militant Osama bin Laden has been arrested on suspicion of having a role in plotting a bomb attack against the United States, security officials said Friday.
Mohambedou Ould Slahi was being held at the offices of the Bureau of Mauritanian Security, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He was arrested in this West African nation after leaving neighboring Senegal on Wednesday, they said.
Slahi, who had been living in Canada, left there in part because of an investigation into an alleged bomb plot that U.S. authorities say was linked to Bin Laden, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said Thursday.
U.S. officials accuse Bin Laden, a Saudi exile believed to be living in Afghanistan, of masterminding the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Those attacks killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
In Washington, a federal law enforcement official said Friday that U.S. officials want to question Slahi. But the official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, would not say whether the government would try to bring Slahi to the United States or would question him in Mauritania.
The Senegalese newspaper Walfadjri reported Friday that Slahi had been detained for a few hours at the airport in Dakar, the capital, after arriving from Paris. He was questioned and then allowed to travel to the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, the paper reported.
Walfadjri, quoting unidentified police sources, said Slahi was questioned because his name was on an Interpol list of people to watch.
On Friday, Slahi's mother, who gave her name as Fatima, denied that her son would be involved in a bomb plot.
"My son is not the kind of person who can kill," she said, as more than a dozen female relatives and one teenage boy gathered in a cramped apartment just outside Nouakchott. She described him as a deeply religious man who "cries when a member of the family has a simple injury."
Dan Lambert, a spokesman for Canadian intelligence, said Thursday that Slahi left Canada sometime after authorities uncovered the alleged plot Dec. 14 when they arrested an Algerian national for allegedly trying to smuggle bomb-making components into the United States.
Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian, pleaded not guilty Thursday in federal court in Seattle to charges of planning a terrorist bombing.
Three other Algerian nationals and a woman married to an Algerian are in custody, and police in the United States and Canada are searching for another Algerian.
According to a New York Times report, Slahi's brother-in-law is one of Bin Laden's top lieutenants. However, a U.S. law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity said Thursday that U.S. investigators are unsure of this.
U.S. investigators are also not sure if Slahi was a major figure in the bombing plot, or just a minor messenger, the official said.
No specific evidence has been released linking Bin Laden to the alleged bombing plot. Authorities have not said what the targets of that plot might have been.