Below is a vague timeline of the alleged AQIM assassination attempt on Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. It appears to have not gotten very far:
- Three AQIM vehicles were sighted near Nema over the weekend and the the Army, Gendarmerie and National Police tracked them from the air as they moved from the border region to the capital;
- Government forces discovered one truck at R’Kiz, Trarza and arrested three men carrying explosives, two Mauritanians and one from Guinea Bissau;
- Government forces encountered two AQIM trucks and engaged them in a gun fight outside of Nouakchott, one of which exploded (wounding 13 soldiers from BASEP, the Republican Guard) and another of which sped off and whose location is not yet known;
- Gun fire has been reported in parts of the capital, though no specific geographic details have come from the press in this regard, except that an Air Force barracks by the airport in Nouakchott was attacked by unknown gunmen;
- AQIM released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack and saying that the operation was intended to assassinate the Mauritanian President by car bomb as he returned from a visit to Ethiopia;
- The Defense Minister claims that one of the trucks was headed for the French Embassy, one targeted a military barracks in the Sixth Military Region (Nouakchott), which may explain the gunshots reported at the Air Force barracks, and a the third “providing logistical support for the other two.” Wether the two neutralized trucks were the bomb cars is unclear from news reports. No information on what the third car might be carrying.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb launched an attempt to assassinate Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz as he returned to the country from Ethiopia on Tuesday. The three AQIM vehicles (Toyota 4X4s) entered the country from Mali; suspicious vehicles were detected near Nema on Saturday. Army forces were deployed to track the vehicles (it is unclear whether forces from the Gendarmerie and National Guard were deployed as well, though one assumes they must have; more on this as information emerges). Army forces then discovered abandoned vehicle in the village of ‘Akrish outside R’kiz, Trarza. Three men were then arrested, allegedly carrying explosives. Late Tuesday, Army troops confronted two trucks near the Riyadh neighborhood on the outskirts of Nouakchott. One exploded and the other remains at large.
Reports differ on the details. Taqadoumy writes that Army and police forces stopped a vehicle (it is unclear if they exchanged fire at this point) and approached it, presumably on foot, “brandishing their weapons,” at which point the truck’s occupants detonated a car bomb wounding nine soldiers (from the BASEP, the Presidential Guard) and killing three. ANI reports that a BASEP patrol made contact with two AQIM vehicles, one of which exploded in the course of the firefight, wounding nine BASEP troops. A second vehicle continued the fight, exchanging fire with the soldiers before escaping as ambulances brought government forces to the military hospital. The same ANI reports, “eyewitnesses attest to having heard gunfire in several parts of the capital.” Early reports differ on the number of AQIM personnel in exploded Toyota, putting their numbers at two or three. The blast left a crater “with a depth of three or four meters,” according to ANI (the Defense Minister says the truck carried a half ton of explosives). ANI also writes that thirteen soldiers from BASEP (including one officer) were wounded by the explosion, seven of whom require surgery, mostly for shrapnel (citing an “informed source”). A third report, from Sahara Media, relates that the trucks were sighted around six o’clock at night on Tuesday in the Riyadh and that that National Gendarmerie forces “decided to follow them precisely in order to eliminate them,” driving them out of the city and to a more remote area so that their detonation could not cause “heavy losses in the capital.” The operation was headed by BASEP and special Gendarmerie troops; they chased the AQIM trucks out of the city, engaging them in a fire fight before one of the trucks turned round to head in the direction of the government forces “at high speed,” at which point shooting caused the opposing vehicle to explode. It reports that the government forces destroyed the truck by hitting it with an RPG shell, citing a Gendarmerie source. The Ministry of Defense claims three AQIM members were killed in the fighting at Riyadh and eight soldiers were wounded.
Nouakchott has been placed on high alert as military and police forces hunt down the remaining AQIM truck. President Ould Abdel Aziz, the founder and former commander of BASEP, visited the military hospital not long after the battle. Gunfire has been reported in the vicinity of an Air Force barracks near the capital, though the gunmen have not been identified and no injuries have been reported as a result of it.
More to come as information becomes available on the third vehicle and the details of the fighting.