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Friday, December 28, 2007
Lisbon-Dakar race to go through Mauritania despite al-Qaida claims


NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania -- A senior Lisbon-Dakar Rally official said the event would follow its planned route through Mauritania despite two deadly attacks, one of them claimed as an al-Qaida raid.

An unauthenticated audio recording broadcast by Al Arabiya television said al-Qaida's north African wing, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, had killed four Mauritanian soldiers in the remote north of the country late on Wednesday.

The attack came after gunmen shot dead four French tourists in Mauritania on Monday, which officials have said may have been carried out by Islamic militants.

The attacks raised fears that al-Qaida-linked militants who have carried out attacks in Algeria and Morocco may be seeking to extend operations southwards to Mauritania, Mali and Senegal, where the rally is due to finish on Jan. 20.

Roger Kalmanovitz, the rally's head of security, has been in the country meeting military, police and government officials and said the Jan. 5-20 event would go ahead as planned.

"We are satisfied and the rally will indeed start in Lisbon on Jan. 5 and arrive on Mauritanian soil on Jan. 11," he told reporters in the capital, Nouakchott.

Last year, organizers of the 5,600-mile race canceled two stages after France's security services said rally participants risked being kidnapped or ambushed by Algerian rebels while passing through Mali.