Suspects in foiled Mauritania car-bombing confess on TV

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Two north African Al-Qaeda members have confessed on state television that a foiled bomb attack in Nouakchott would have done "enormous damage" to France's embassy and the defence ministry.

The men were arrested on the outskirts of the Mauritanian capital last week when the army intercepted the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) attack, blowing up a car packed with explosives.

"We had to detonate one of the two car bombs at the ministry of defence and the neighbouring police headquarters and the second at the French embassy," said one of the men, whom the television named as 27-year-old Saleck Ould Cheikh Mohamedou.

Authorities said they had captured Mohamedou on Saturday after a two-day manhunt along the Senegal river.

Mohamedou told the television that three cars were used in the operation, with eight people on board: six Mauritanians, one Algerian and one from Guinea-Bissau. The group had undergone four months of preparation for the attack in neighbouring Mali, he said.

"The explosive power of the two car bombs could do enormous damage within 500 metres (yards)," said Mohamedou.

"In particular we were to blow up the gate to the French embassy with a grenade, to open up access for the car before detonating the bomb inside the chancellery."

His accomplice from Guinea-Bissau, Youcef Galissa, 29, confirmed the details of the plan in the same televised confession.

They both said they were "pleased to have failed" and that they regretted their action which threatened "many innocent lives." They called on young AQMI members to give themselves up.

The men denied initial claims by AQMI, published by online agency Nouakchott Info, saying the operation's main aim was to assassinate President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

Four suspected AQMI members died during the failed attack, three were killed by the army and one by suicide, and two were arrested.

A Mauritanian gendarme was killed and eight wounded in the fighting.

© 2011 AFP

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