Clash erupts in eastern Mauritania, al-Qaida suspected

NOUAKCHOTT - Fighting erupted between Mauritania's army and suspected Islamists in the east of the country on Tuesday, with witnesses reporting heavy and automatic weapons fire and the aircraft flying overhead.
Few details were available about the clash, which comes after al-Qaida's North Africa wing, known as AQIM, said it killed 20 Mauritanian soldiers in fighting in Mali last month, rejecting claims by Nouakchott that 15 jihadists had died, according to a US-based monitoring service.
Countries in Africa's Sahel-Sahara region are battling an increased threat from gunmen linked to al-Qaida, who frequently cooperate with and operate alongside a plethora of rebels, bandits and traffickers in the huge, largely desert zone.
Witnesses said suspected AQIM fighters attacked a military base in Bassiknou, near Nema, in the far east of Mauritania, on Tuesday afternoon.
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