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Last Updated: Friday, 1 February 2008, 07:51 GMT
Mauritania gunmen target embassy
Map of Mauritania
Unidentified gunmen have opened fire on the Israeli embassy in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, wounding at least one person, officials have said.

The Israeli ambassador said the wounded man was a Mauritanian who lived nearby, and that no embassy staff had been hurt in the overnight shooting in the city.

Witnesses said the six attackers had traded fire with embassy guards before shouting "God is great" as they fled.

In December, four French tourists were killed by suspected Islamist militants.

At least nine people were arrested in connection with that attack, which occurred in Aleg, about 250km (160 miles) east of Nouakchott.

Prosecutors said they were thought to belong to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb - an Algeria-based group formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

Authorities in the West African country of Guinea-Bissau later said they had arrested five other Mauritanians over the killings.

The attack - a rare event in the south of Mauritania - led the French organisers of the Lisbon-Dakar Rally to cancel the event due to security concerns.

'Sad night'

Ali Fall, an employee of a local club, said he saw six men wearing boubous - long flowing African gowns - and turbans get out of a vehicle and walk towards a restaurant near the Israeli embassy.

"They said loudly in Arabic 'Let's go', then shouted 'Allahu Akbar' [God is great] and opened fire," he said.

It only happened a few hours ago, but a shooting on a foreign embassy is a very serious incident
Boaz Bismuth
Israeli ambassador to Mauritania

Mauritanian soldiers guarding the embassy immediately returned fire and the gunmen quickly fled in their car.

Israel's ambassador to Mauritania, Boaz Bismuth, confirmed there had been a shooting at 0220 (0220 GMT) and said he was only aware of one person who had been hurt in the incident.

"All the embassy staff, Israeli and Mauritanian, are safe," he told the Reuters news agency.

"I have received many phone calls from Mauritanian friends who are very concerned. That is the only positive thing in a very sad night," he added.

The area around the embassy was later cordoned off by the Mauritanian military and an Israeli security team has been sent to Mauritania to examine the scene of the attack.

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is one of the few members of the Arab League to have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Mr Bismuth said the attack had followed recent public calls by political parties in the country for the government to sever such ties in protest at Israel's policies in the Gaza Strip.

The aftermath of the attack on the embassy

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