“The men were armed, they numbered seven and they were travelling in vehicles that included a truck used by AQIM terrorists,” he said.
The arrests took place near Lemgheity, where in June 2005 an attack by the group then known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat – left 15 Mauritanian soldiers dead.
Surrounded, the suspects turned themselves in to the soldiers who had been monitoring their movements as part of a broader surveillance of the area, “a true lair for terrorists and traffickers”, the source said.
“We are sure that they belong to AQIM and we continue to question them,” he said.
Tahalil Hebdo, a weekly publication that focuses on Islamist issues, reported on Monday that “the dismantling of (jihadist) cells” in recent months has led to the discovery of arms caches and supplies in the Mauritanian desert.
Such cells are known to be active in the vast and hard-to-police Sahara, notably in the north of Mali and the east of Mauritania.
AQIM has claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack near the French embassy in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott on August 8 in which the perpetrator a young Mauritanian was killed and three people injured.
On June 23, an American living in Mauritania was shot and killed in broad daylight in the capital. That incident was also claimed by AQIM and several alleged perpetrators have been jailed.