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Questions Surround Israeli Embassy Attack

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) took responsibility for the shooting attack during the early morning hours of February 1 against the Israeli embassy in Mauritania's capital of Nouakchott. Three bystanders were wounded in the attack at an adjacent restaurant and disco called the VIP. The International Herald Tribune carried the group's claim:

"In this blessed raid that has been carried out by the champions of al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, targeting the Israeli embassy in Nouakchott on Friday morning ... the mujahideen have attacked it with the fire of their weapons and their bombs and were able with the support of God to injure an unlimited number in the ranks of Jews and their guards," the statement said. "This attack comes at a time when the bastard Jews are tormenting our brothers in Palestine with an unjustified siege ... before a clear silence from the Western states, and collaboration of ... what is called the rulers of Muslims," said the statement, which appeared on a Web site that regularly carries messages from Islamist extremist groups.

Clearly significant for this attack, Mauritania is only the third member of the Arab League besides Egypt and Jordan to have diplomatic relations with Israel. The attack follows on a recent surge of attacks in Mauritania, a country previously little affected by terrorism of this variety. A family of French tourists was attacked by AQIM in December and a contingent of Mauritian soldiers targeted shortly thereafter. The heightened threat environment led to the cancellation of the Dakar Rally, a cross-desert auto race. Three people have since been arrested for the attack amid speculation that the embassy was not the intended target, but in fact was the VIP restaurant next door. According to another report:

Mauritanian officials, who have been eager to tamp down perceptions of a rising terrorist threat in their country, a vast, arid nation at the western edge of Africa, claimed that the target of the early-morning volley of gunfire in its capital, Nouakchott, was a popular nightclub that defies a national ban on selling alcohol and is often patronized by prostitutes, not the nearby Israeli Embassy.

Israel seems to support this conclusion as the head of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service, Yuval Diskin, announced to the Israeli cabinet. Regardless of the intended target, the implications flowing from the attack remain the same. AQIM clearly finds Mauritania an inviting target as it seeks to expand its influence outward from its country of origin, Algeria. Further complicating the issue, in February 2007 Ayman al-Zawahri released a videotape urging for an attack on the Israeli embassy in Mauritania.