Algeria hostage-taker's brother charged in Mauritania

Two Mauritanians including the brother of one of the hostage-takers who seized an Algerian gas field last month were charged Tuesday with trying to join Al-Qaeda to fight in Mali, a judicial source said.

The two men were "charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation" after trying to join Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al-Qaeda's north African branch, to go fight against French-led forces battling Islamist rebels in neighbouring Mali, the source said on condition of anonymity.

The pair had been arrested recently, he said, and were remanded in custody pending trial.

One of the men, Brahim Ould Hmeida, is the older brother of Abdallahi Ould Hmeida, one of the Islamist extremists who attacked the In Amenas gas field in Algeria and sparked a four-day siege that left 38 hostages dead.

He had previously been charged with terrorism in a separate case but was later given a presidential pardon.

The other man charged, Mohamed Lemine Ould Cheikhani, was also arrested for terrorism once before, in 2006, but was acquitted.

Earlier Tuesday, Mauritanian Defence Minister Ahmed Ould Ideye told a conference on fighting terrorism that the country had "dismantled a large number of terrorist sleeper cells" in recent years.

Since coming to power in 2008, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has sought to crack down on AQIM, notably by ordering raids on its bases in neighbouring Mali in 2010 and 2011.

AQIM and two other Islamist groups seized control of northern Mali for 10 months in the chaotic aftermath of a March military coup before a French-led military operation launched on January 11 pushed them out.