Nouakchott: Three men accused of killing four French tourists in Mauritania in 2007 told the start of their trial on Sunday that they considered themselves al Qaeda warriors.
"I am a soldier of al Qaeda, I say it with pride. I have been trained in their camps," Sidi Ould Sidna, one of the three defendants, told the trial in the Mauritanian capital.
"I did not kill them but I confess that it would have been a great honour if I had carried it out," said another, Ould Maarouf Ould Haiba.
Along with Mohamed Ould Chabarnou, they entered pleas of not guilty of shooting five French tourists on December 24 2007 near the city of Aleg in southern Mauritania. Four died and the fifth was seriously wounded.
Security was tight in Nouakchott as the court opened its proceedings, with police blocking off streets in the city centre.
Sidi Ould Sidna and Mohamed Ould Chabarnou were arrested in January 2008 in the West African country of Guinea-Bissau with the help of French intelligence.
Maarouf Ould Haiba was detained shortly after in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott.
All three Mauritanians were suspected of belonging to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has claimed a series of attacks and kidnappings in North Africa.
Nine other people are on trial for complicity in the killings. Two of the 12 are on the run and were being tried in absentia.
Last morning, the same court sentenced a man charged with links to al Qaeda`s North African wing to 10 years in prison.
Dahoud Ould Setti, who was also fined USD 918 dollars, was accused of "creating his own terrorist organisation" and having been "in contact with the local branch of AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb)" in Mauritania.
Police arrested Setti in June 2008 after he had been on the run for a long period. He pleaded not guilty in his trial.