The attack came two days after terror group al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb, or AQMI, released two Spanish aid workers who had been kidnapped while delivering supplies in Mauritania last November. In a recording sent to Spanish newspaper El Pais, the al-Qaida offshoot said the Spanish hostages were released because a part of their demands had been met, suggesting that the Spanish government had paid a ransom.
A Frenchman kidnapped in April by the al-Qaida affiliate was executed in July after a joint operation led by Mauritanian and French commandos attacked one of the terror group's camps in Mali.
AQMI had promised to avenge the death of seven of their men in the attack and the army official said he believes the suicide attack was intended as payback for the July 22 raid.
Mauritania, a nation that straddles the Sahara desert on Africa's west coast, is a moderate Muslim republic. It has been rocked by the rise of the extremist group, which began as an Islamic rebellion in Algeria, and in 2006 merged with al-Qaida. The group has bankrolled itself through 'kidnap economy' including Austrian, Swiss, French and Italian hostages.
Experts say the multimillion dollar ransoms being paid for the release of European hostages has allowed the organization to recruit better-trained fighters and to launch more sophisticated attacks.
Suicide bombers are relatively unknown in West Africa. The first such attack in Mauritania was on Aug. 8, 2009, when a terrorist wearing an explosive belt tried to blow himself up in front of the French embassy in Nouakchott. The militants openly claim on jihadi websites they want to topple the government in Mauritania to create an Islamic caliphate.
--- Associated Press Writer Rukmini Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.