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.