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Bodies of 12 soldiers found in Mauritania

Their throats were cut. An Al Qaeda-linked group last week had claimed responsibility for attacking them.

September 21, 2008|From the Associated Press

NOUAKCHOTT, MAURITANIA — Mauritania's army on Saturday found the bodies of 12 soldiers who were attacked last week in an ambush purportedly claimed by a branch of Al Qaeda, a government spokesman said.

The men were found with their throats cut in the desert about 20 miles north of the town of Tourine, the site of Monday's ambush, he said.

The government originally said the soldiers were shot to death in the attack, but then reclassified them as missing when it didn't find the bodies.

Several websites known to be close to extremist Islamic movements published a statement attributed to Al Qaeda's North Africa branch Wednesday in which the group claimed responsibility for the attack.

"This jihadist operation targeted the allies of the Americans, the crusaders on Islamic Mauritanian territory occupied by infidels," the statement said, adding that the 12 soldiers had been taken prisoner.

Mauritania has for more than a year been dealing with low-level violence that its government has blamed on terrorist cells linked to Al Qaeda, including last year's slayings of four French tourists.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has called for a holy war to avenge the Aug. 6 overthrow by the military of President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, Mauritania's first freely elected president.

The U.S. sees Mauritania as a bulwark against the southward encroachment of militants linked to Al Qaeda who are more active in Algeria. Mauritania appealed Saturday to foreign powers for aid in fighting terrorists.

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