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U.S. transfers suspected senior al Qaeda member to Mauritania

Pashtun men read local newspapers reporting the arrest of senior al Qaeda leader Younis al- Mauritani at roadside tea shop in Quetta Septemb
Pashtun men read local newspapers reporting the arrest of senior al Qaeda leader Younis al- Mauritani at roadside tea shop in Quetta Septemb

By Laurent Prieur

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - U.S. authorities have transferred Younis al-Mauritani, a suspected senior member of al Qaeda previously held in Afghanistan, to Mauritania, officials in the West African nation said on Saturday.

Pakistan said in September 2011 it arrested al-Mauritani, better known in his homeland Mauritania as Youssouf Al Mauritani, during a joint operation with U.S. intelligence services.

Witnesses at the airport in Mauritania's capital, Nouakchott, saw a U.S. military plane deliver a prisoner late on Friday.

Mauritanian authorities confirmed al-Mauritani's identity, adding that he had been transferred from the U.S. military base in Bagram, Afghanistan.

"It's indeed Youssouf Al Mauritani, real name Abderhamane Ould Mohamed Al-Hussein," a senior security official told Reuters, asking not to be named.

"He was in Bagram and was handed over to the Mauritanian authorities by the Americans. He indeed arrived at the Nouakchott airport last night," he said.

A Mauritanian judicial official specialized in terrorism cases also confirmed that the prisoner transferred on Friday was al-Mauritani. U.S. embassy officials in Nouakchott declined to comment.

Pakistani military authorities said Al Mauritani was planning to attack U.S. economic interests including pipelines, hydro-electric dams and oil tankers when he was captured.

They said he had also been tasked by Osama bin Laden with hitting European and Australian targets.

Mauritanian authorities issued an international warrant for his arrest, accusing him of participating in a 2005 attack on the Lemgheity army base which killed 17 soldiers and a deadly shoot-out with police in Nouakchott in 2008.

Mauritania, with one of West Africa's more effective armies, carried out military strikes against Islamist bases in neighboring Mali in 2010 and 2011 and is seen as one of the West's principal allies against al Qaeda in the region.

(Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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