Mauritanian soldiers killed three armed men and took 18 prisoners after attempting to stop a convoy in the remote northeast of the country, army sources told Reuters.
The clash comes as Mauritania and its Saharan neighbours face an upsurge in drugs smuggling that some analysts believe is being supported by al Qaeda’s North African cells.
“A clash between an armed group and the Mauritanian army occurred last Friday near Chegga in northeast Mauritania next to its Algerian and Malian border,” one of the sources said.
The armed group was travelling in a convoy of SUVs and trucks and included citizens of Mauritania, Algeria and Mali, according to the sources.
They did not say whether the group was involved in smuggling or connected with al Qaeda, but local media said the convoy was transporting drugs.
The military sent an airplane to the site of the clash Friday and the plane is expected to return to Nouakchott with the prisoners Saturday, one of the sources said.
The area where the clash occurred belongs to a larger zone recently designated by the Mauritanian army as a military zone in which al Qaeda cells regularly operate.
Pic: Mauritanian soldier