Three Algerians were killed in a bombing this week in the border area between Mauritania and the disputed territory of Western Sahara, the Algerian presidency has said in a statement, blaming Morocco for the attack.
“On November 1 … three Algerian nationals were subjected to a cowardly assassination in a barbaric bombing of their trucks while they were traveling between Nouakchott and Ouargla,” the statement carried by Algeria’s official news agency said on Wednesday.
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“Several factors indicate that the Moroccan occupation forces in the Western Sahara carried out this cowardly assassination with sophisticated weaponry,” it added, warning that it “will not go unpunished.”
Morocco has not officially commented on the accusations, but an informed source from the kingdom said “it has never targeted and will never target Algerian citizens, regardless of the circumstances and the provocations”.
“If Algeria wants war, Morocco doesn’t,” said the source, who requested anonymity.
After images of a burned-out vehicle circulated on social media on Tuesday, Mauritania said there had been no bombardment on its soil.
Breaking diplomatic ties
The incident underscored the risks of escalation between the two North African countries after months of deteriorating relations tied to the conflict in Western Sahara.
Western Sahara is 80 percent controlled by Morocco, which sees the former Spanish colony as an integral part of its own territory.
But its regional rival Algeria has long hosted and supported the Polisario Front, which seeks full independence there.
The Algerian statement did not specify the exact location where the bombardment took place.
But Akram Kharief, editor of Algerian website Mena Defense, said that “the Algerian truckers were killed in Bir Lahlou”, on a highway through the part of Western Sahara controlled by the Polisario Front.
The Polisario in November declared a three-decade ceasefire “null and void” after Moroccan forces broke up a blockade of a highway into Mauritania, which the independence movement said was built in violation of a 1991 truce.
In August, Algeria broke off diplomatic ties with Morocco citing “hostile actions” – charges Rabat dismissed.
On Friday, the United Nations Security Council called for renewed peace talks in a resolution that Algeria slammed as “fundamentally unbalanced”.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the situation in Western Sahara had “significantly deteriorated” during the past year.
Former US President Donald Trump broke with long-held diplomatic norms last year to recognise Morocco’s claim to the territory as part of a quid pro quo for Rabat’s normalisation of ties with Israel.
His successor Joe Biden’s administration has not yet confirmed or rescinded the decision.