Mauritanian car salesman arrested over French tourist murders

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Mauritanian police have arrested a man who sold a car to the suspected killers of four French tourists

   NOUAKCHOTT, January 3, 2008  - Mauritanian police have arrested a man who sold a car to the suspected killers of four French tourists and placed him in
custody with eight other suspects, an investigator said Wednesday.
   "The salesman was arrested on Sunday" in Nouakchott and transferred
Wednesday to the southern regional capital of Aleg, where eight other suspects
linked to the December 24 killings are being held, the investigator told AFP.
   "He is believed to have made the sale with one of those who attacked the
French people in a small restaurant in the town (Nouakchott), the day before
the operation against the tourists," he said, asking not to be named.
   Three attackers, all identified as Mauritanians, are still on the run and
are believed to have crossed into Senegal, police in both countries have said
as massive manhunt continued in the two nations as well as neighbouring Mali.
   On December 24, the men used a Mercedes 190 to follow the French travellers
and one of the attackers was spotted in Aleg while the tourists were changing
   The tourists were later ambushed while having lunch under a roadside tree.
   Three members of the same family and a friend were shot dead while a fourth
member of the French family was wounded in the assault, blamed by Mauritanian
officials on Al-Qaeda's Branch in the Islamic Maghreb, an Islamist extremist
movement of Algerian origin.
   The Mercedes was brought into Mauritania from Morocco on December 14, the
interior ministry stated, but one of the investigators said "there is not
necessarily a link between Moroccan and Mauritanian terrorist networks, since
there is a flourishing vehicle trade between the two countries."
   The car was recovered with false Mauritanian licence plates in Aleg a few
hours after the attack.
   Moroccan forensic experts have helped check the vehicle for fingerprints,
as well as a taxi the attackers used to flee towards Senegal.
   Spent cartridges were still being analysed in Morocco on Wednesday to check
that they were fired by a Kalashnikov found on an Aleg waste dump and held to
be the murder weapon.
   Mauritanian authorities have presented two of the attackers as members of
the Al-Qaeda branch formed in January 2007 when the Algerian Islamist radicals
of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) changed name and stepped
up attacks, particularly within Algeria.
   The group, hostile to the West in general, also considers French nationals
legitimate targets because it accuses French intelligence forces of helping in
the capture and handing over to Algeria of a former GSPC leader.


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