The Mauritanian authorities announced that an anti-terrorism military unit carried out a special operation in a remote desert area, killing three of the four al-Qaeda members who escaped from the central prison in Nouakchott a week ago.
The fleeing prisoners were apprehended about 400 km northeast of the capital en route to a desert road used by smugglers leading to Mali.
A Mauritanian army source believed the terrorists most likely intended to head towards northern Mali, the strongholds of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The source told Asharq Al-Awsat that they were in a four-wheel drive car, but it broke down, and they were spotted by locals, who informed security.
A battalion of the elite Mauritanian gendarmerie, trained in combating terrorism, participated in the operation with the support of army special forces and the Mauritanian Air Force.
A clash occurred between the two parties, resulting in the death of the three terrorists and the arrest of the fourth. A member of the Mauritanian gendarmerie was killed, according to the joint statement of the defense and interior ministries.
Meanwhile, President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El-Ghazouani offered his condolences for the death of the armed forces.
Ghazouani was referring to two guard members whom prisoners killed during the escape and the police officers killed during the clash.
The escape of al-Qaeda members who had been in prison for more than ten years, two of whom were sentenced to death, rekindled the threat of terrorism, knowing that the last terrorist operation in the country dates back to 2011.
The Mauritanian journalist, Sidi Mohammed Bellamech, confirmed that active sleeper cells helped the terrorists escape prison.
Bellamech told Asharq Al-Awsat that some terrorists provided the prisoners with a four-wheel drive car that took them from the prison, adding that dozens of people are linked to the terrorists.
According to Bellamech, Mauritanian security authorities believed the operation was essential for national security even if it involved losses, as it uncovered sleeper terrorist cells growing in the absence of the state.
The journalist concluded that this process is a turning point in the history of the Mauritanian state's dealings with the terrorism file, pointing out that a new security strategy must be implemented, reconsidering the dialogue mechanism with terrorists.
Mauritanian authorities maintained strict security measures in the capital and on the country's main roads, and the internet was cut on mobile networks.
Authorities are still looking for wanted persons involved in the escape operations.