updated 1/12/2004 3:11:29 PM ET 2004-01-12T20:11:29

The United States has received information of threats against American interests in the West African nations of Mauritania and Senegal and has dispatched an anti-terror team to the region, a State Department official said.

The anti-terror team will help the region’s governments guard desert borders against Islamic extremists.

U.S. officials have long worried that little-policed frontiers of West Africa’s Sahara would serve as crossing points for armed Muslim extremist groups, including an Algeria-based movement linked to al-Qaida and what American experts say are already in-place al-Qaida cells in the region.

Pamela Bridgewater, a deputy undersecretary of State for Africa, told reporters in Noaukchott, Mauritania’s capital, “that there are indications of such threats” against Americans in Mauritania and in Senegal, Mauritania’s southern neighbor.

Bridgewater declined to elaborate, saying, “the question is very sensitive.”

Unlike North and East Africa, no country in West Africa has seen a terror attack against Western interests.

Bridgewater said the American anti-terror team arrived Saturday in Mauritania, and would work with the Mauritanian army for about a week. The U.S. squad aimed to “reinforce their capabilities in the line of guarding the borders against terrorist groups,” she said.

“Other specialized teams are expected in the region in coming months,” the diplomat said.

The United States has targeted the governments of Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad for help combating terrorist groups.

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