- At least 12 Mauritanian soldiers have been killed in an ambush today by suspected al-Qaeda North Africa wing in a battle north of capital Nouakchott, officials said.
The unit was on a normal patrol on northern border when attack took place 70 kilometres east of mining town of Zouerat, close to Western Sahara.
Monday's ambush came as African Union's security and peace commissioner, Ramdane Lamamra, was to meet coup leader General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to try to broker an end to country's constitutional crisis.
Officials indicated that al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, which has been blamed for previous attacks in the country, could be responsible, further indicating that group had threatened action after a recent coup that toppled Mauritania's first democratically elected president.
The officials did not say whether any of assailants, described as members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), were killed in the attack.
They further stated that remainder of 23 patrol soldieries escaped and managed to return to base afterwards, saying reinforcements had been sent to the area near Moroccan border.
The attack was deadliest suffered by army since 2005, when fighters linked to Algeria's former Salafist Group for Call and Combat killed 15 soldiers in an assault on a desert outpost in Mgheiti.
Al-Qaeda in Islamic North Africa had called for a holy war to avenge the August 6 overthrow by military of Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, Mauritania's first freely elected president.
Mauritania was shaken between December 2007 and February 2008 by three deadly attacks from extremists linked to Al-Qaeda, which left seven people dead, including four French tourists.
The US has identified desert regions of Mauritania and its neighbours as a potential haven for Islamist militants, setting up joint-security programmes in the area.
But US has suspended more than US $20m in non-humanitarian aid following the August coup.
Mauritanian authorities also suspect Islamist terrorists were responsible for an attack on Israeli embassy in Nouakchott, which killed three soldiers near the town of Ghallawiya, around 700km north of the capital.
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