NOUAKCHOTT (AFP) — Mauritania's army on Wednesday sought to prevent suspected Al-Qaeda operatives accused of ambushing a military patrol from slipping out of the country across northern borders, a lawmaker said.
"The army is strongly mobilised to keep them from leaving the country by positioning themselves on the different possible transit points and by using air reconnaissance," the lawmaker told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He said he had been informed of the deployment by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the head of a military junta that took charge of the country in a coup last month.
"These people do not have much chance to escape," the lawmaker said.
"They were 800 kilometres (500 miles) from the closest exit point at the location of the attack in difficult desert where the transit points are very well known by our troops."
He was referring to the borders with Algeria and Mali.
Security sources blamed Monday's ambush on Al-Qaeda's branch in North Africa and had initially said 12 soldiers were killed. They now say only that the soldiers are missing.
On Monday, several security sources told AFP that reinforcements sent to the scene "found that the assailants had taken everything away with them, including vehicles and men, dead or alive."
According to the lawmaker, the general confirmed that the 12 soldiers and two of their vehicles had been taken away by the attackers as they fled.
"The 12 men, including a captain, are in the hands of the criminals who would undoubtedly try to use them as cover in their escape and for possible ransom demands," he said.
Experts say the attackers are likely only to be able to travel at night and would have needed at least five days to reach the border with Algeria or Mali.
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