- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2008

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania — At least one gunman opened fire on the Israeli Embassy in Mauritania early yesterday, setting off a gunbattle with guards that wounded three persons, Israeli and Mauritanian officials said.

The gunman opened fire at 2:20 a.m., Israeli Ambassador Boaz Bizmuth told Israel Radio.

“The local security forces who guard our embassy returned fire,” he said. “As of now, we know of one casualty: a Mauritanian citizen who lives near our embassy. All embassy staff are fine.”

A Mauritanian government spokesman, Aziz Ould Dahi, confirmed the attack and said three persons were wounded. The French Foreign Ministry also said three French citizens, two men and a woman, were wounded.

Mauritania is one of the few Arab League nations with diplomatic ties to Israel, having established relations in 1999.

Six men had gathered outside the VIP, a disco and restaurant adjacent to the embassy. They pulled out automatic weapons and stormed the embassy, screaming “God is great” in Arabic, said Hamza Ould Bilal, a taxi driver who said he witnessed the shooting.

Police discovered unexploded grenades inside the VIP and intended to detonate them last night, a police official said.

There has been no claim of responsibility, but a year ago, a top al Qaeda leader released a videotape calling for an attack on the Israeli Embassy in Mauritania, according to a transcript provided by Ben Venzke, who heads IntelCenter in Alexandria, Va.

“I call on every sincere and jealous Mauritanian … to hurry to aid Islam in their land and to expel from it the embassy of the trespasser Jews,” Ayman al-Zawahri said on the videotape released Feb. 13, 2007.

Mauritania has had relatively few incidents of terrorism in recent years, but on Christmas Eve, gunmen killed four French tourists as they picnicked on the side of a road — an attack the government blamed on a terror sleeper cell affiliated with al Qaeda.

A few days later, a military base in northern Mauritania was attacked, and the media committee of al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa claimed responsibility.

The group’s statement said: “This operation has come at a time during which the sky of our beloved Nouakchott is still polluted with the fluttering of the Israeli flag.”

The back-to-back attacks led the French organizers of the famous Dakar Rally to cancel the long-standing trans-Saharan race, which would have traversed this desert nation last month.

The Israeli ambassador told Israel Radio that yesterday’s attack followed furious protests this week over Israel’s policies in the Gaza Strip. Israel has been restricting deliveries of gas and other supplies to the territory in response to rocket attacks targeting Israeli towns.

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