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Sunday, 13 January 2008

killers of four French tourists in Mauritania

Arrested in Guinea-Bissau of suspected killers of four French tourists in Mauritania shows how West Africa has become a "black hole" of crime mafias, traffickers and terrorists, a U.N. expert said on Sunday.
Antonio Mazzitelli of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) urged international security agencies to pay more attention to the West African region, which he said was turning into a hotbed of crime and potential terrorism.
Police in Guinea-Bissau on Friday arrested two Mauritanians suspected of killing four French tourists shot on Christmas Eve as they picnicked by a roadside in southeast Mauritania.
The two, who Bissau police said admitted belonging to al Qaeda, were extradited to Mauritania on Saturday along with three suspected accomplices, all Mauritanians. They threatened further attacks and were defiantly anti-Western, police said.
The Mauritania killings, which led to the 2008 Lisbon-Dakar rally being cancelled, have touched off alarm bells in security circles, raising the prospect of Islamic terrorist cells operating further south than before in Sub-Saharan Africa.
"This sort of thing confirms our worst worries, that all kinds of criminals can turn up in places like Guinea-Bissau or elsewhere in West Africa ... there might be many others like these," Mazzitelli told Reuters in an interview.
Bissau police, already fighting an invasion of Latin American drug cartels who use the small West African state to ship cocaine to Europe, were alarmed to find that one of the detained Mauritanians had previously lived in Guinea-Bissau for two years and spoke the local creole language.
Mauritanian authorities are already calling the arrested suspects a "sleeper cell" of al Qaeda in West Africa.
"West Africa has become a black hole where any kind of wanted person can come and operate or hide ... be they terrorists or other kinds of criminals," said Mazzitelli, who heads the UNODC office for West and Central Africa.
"It's a criminal paradise," he added. He cited indications that armed rebellions by Tuareg desert fighters in northern Niger and Mali, ostensibly launched on political rounds, were actually a front for large-scale trafficking of drugs and arms.
Fears of further attacks against foreigners in the Sahara and the Sahel have increased after three Italians were robbed by gunmen in early January near Timbuktu, the fabled Saharan trading town that is a popular tourist destination in Mali.
Worried about the threat of terrorism and trafficking of drugs and migrants, European and U.S. law enforcement agencies have been focusing more attention on Africa's predominantly Muslim western shoulder.
Guinea-Bissau says French police helped them track down the Mauritanians, who are believed to have fled across Senegal after the Christmas Eve killings. The three suspected accomplices were caught trying to photograph French police officers in Bissau.
Security agents from European countries now keep a close watch on West African ports like Dakar, Conakry, Bissau and Nouadhibou to detect possible cargoes of drugs or illegal migrants that can be intercepted at sea by European navies.
But Mazzitelli said the vast region with its largely unpatrolled coastline, desert and bush remained an ideal hiding place for terrorists and criminals.
He said much more needed to be done to reinforce security cover of West Africa and improve law enforcement cooperation.

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