Failed AQIM assassination spurs Mauritania debate
By Mohamed Yahya Ould Abdel Wedoud
February 9, 2011
Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) issued a statement Monday (February 7th) that said the aim behind its failed Nouakchott attack was to assassinate President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Mauritanian troops successfully defended the capital but questions were raised by some about the ability of suicide bombers to enter the country.
“Al-Qaeda operates in a vast region extending from northern Mali to Chad,” explained Islamic movement expert Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Abou El Maali. “They have also started to find a foothold in Niger; something that makes any attempt to geographically besiege them a difficult thing for the Mauritanian army or any other army.”
The AQIM statement said that the terrorists managed “to get past military fortifications and barriers en route to Nouakchott to assassinate the president”, billed in the text as an “agent of France”.
“[Abdel Aziz] is the first president in the region to declare war on al-Qaeda and tracks them down in their stronghold on the outskirts of the Malian desert; something that other regimes in the region have avoided,” Ould Abou El Maali told Magharebia.
The analyst added that the al-Qaeda operation “was a clear message to the region’s presidents, in which it warned them against any military or economic crackdown on the organisation”.
“The problem is that al-Qaeda has also started to explore the Senegalese and Malian borders with Mauritania, with the aim of allowing its elements to easily infiltrate into the depth of Mauritania amid tough and complex terrain characterised by dense forests,” Ould Abou El Maali said.
The Mauritanian army was making progress on securing the borders, having set up security points on the northern and eastern borders, journalist Isselmou Ould Moustaffa said. “Therefore, we notice that al-Qaeda elements this time used uncontrolled border points, such as the Malian-Senegalese borders.”
Ould Moustaffa added that the AQIM message was “a political manoeuvre and nothing else”. He told Magharebia that “all the data confirms that al-Qaeda’s recent operation against Mauritania was not targeting the president but the French embassy and a military barracks, as shown in the official account and in the confessions of al-Qaeda elements who were arrested”.
“Al-Qaeda’s announcement of the assassination attempt against the president aims to terrorise the head of the ruling regime in Mauritania and make him feel that he is targeted,” Ould Moustaffa said. “This is very obvious for a simple reason: with its operations, al-Qaeda is targeting the Mauritanian state, and therefore, is targeting the president whether it announced that or not.”
Politicians were equally critical of the AQIM claim, with Union for the Republic Party spokesman Moktar Ould Abdellahi saying the message was “to say that they still have a presence”.
“The terrorist organisations in northern Mali and the Sahara have lost the compass that has been guiding them for several months following the blows that were dealt them by the Mauritanian army. The latest operation has shown that al-Qaeda fighters need to carry out a major operation to say that they still exist. However, they no longer have a presence,” Ould Abdellahi said.
The president “has adopted a tough security policy against al-Qaeda”, Habib Ly said. “In addition, he has organised a lot of religious gatherings aimed at convincing young people to relinquish extremism and fanaticism; something in which al-Qaeda saw as a serious, and even daring, attempts to eliminate them.”
Magharebia is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defence, Africa Command.
The following article is republished with permission from Magharebia.
Muslim Brotherhood expert discusses Maghreb Salafism
By Houda Trabelsi
October 1, 2010
Alaya Allani is a professor of contemporary history at the University of Manouba in Tunis and a specialist in political Islam. He has published several studies on the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist currents in the Arab Maghreb. Magharebia sat down with Allani in Tunis to discuss the dangers of the spread of Salafism and what he sees as the root causes of the problem.
Magharebia: You have warned against the dangers of militant Salafist groups. What exactly do you mean?
Alaya Allani: First of all, we must stress the need to differentiate between Salafism as a conservative religious current that has been known throughout history for its call to return to pure faith and for its insistence on its stances that reject violence and hold to the legitimacy of rulers and the need to disobey them, even if there were some violations committed, as long as those rulers preserved the identity of the nation, and between Salafism in its contemporary meaning, which coincided with the appearance of the political Islam current.
We now generally talk about appeasing Salafism and militant Salafism; scientific Salafism and another jihadist Salafism. In general, we can say that the militant Salafist groups you mentioned in your question are mainly represented in the jihadist Salafist groups and in some other scientific Salafist currents.
There are common factors that led to the appearance of jihadist currents. These currents are either external or internal. No one can deny the role played by some Western countries in supporting the Afghan jihad to overthrow the communist regime in Afghanistan, and the assistance rendered in this effort by some Gulf countries.
As to internal factors, tension exists between the prevailing jihadist currents and local Muslim governments because of differences in understanding religious texts. Jihadists usually embrace the apparent meaning of texts, accusing all those who oppose their understanding of texts of being infidels, and permit the use of arms against those who oppose them. This is the most dangerous thing in these groups, as there is absence of dialog and physical liquidation becomes the prevailing form of dealing.
Magharebia: How widespread are these types of groups?
Allani: The militant Salafist groups are spread in all Muslim countries with varying degrees. Their presence in Asia, whether in Caucasus countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India or some Arab countries, has grown over the last two decades. As to Africa, except for Egypt, their presence is considered relatively new in the region. This may be linked to the implications of modernisation experiences in these countries, where the failure of pattern of development and rising rates of illiteracy played a role in the expansion of pockets of poverty.
The state no longer became the primary sponsor of economy and the main employer of individuals; something that contributed to the rising tensions. The most prominent example may be found in Algeria in October 1988 when there was popular anger over the deteriorating living conditions of the people and over some social and cultural problems and the inability of the state to meet the basic needs of population. In this environment, the Salafist current, as represented by the Islamic Salvation Front, tried to take advantage of this anger and entered into an intimidation battle with the authorities. The result was victims, bloodshed and cancellation of election results, and then outbreak of a long wave of terrorism that almost destroyed everything.
When we check the social base on which the Front built its presence, we find that the marginalised categories in popular and poor neighbourhoods gave their votes in large numbers to that group in the 1991 elections. In Morocco, investigations proved that most of the members of jihadist cells in that country hail from poor neighbourhoods or shantytowns.
The liberal, Islamic and leftist movements started presenting their alternatives. However, the alternative offered by the Islamic Salvation Front, which included a minority of moderate Islamists and a majority of extremists with Salafist inclinations (whether scientific or jihadist), won the trust of voters. This led to the cancellation of election results in 1992, and after that Algeria entered into a bloody decade of terrorism in which 100,000 victims were killed.
Then al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) came at the beginning of the third millennium to further confuse cards and to involve some African countries, such as Mali, Chad and Niger which had no previous experience with the activities of Islamic armed groups.
Magharebia: What are the most important principles of Salafist groups present in the Maghreb?
Allani: The principles of the jihadist Salafist current in the Maghreb region are derived from the literature of symbols of al-Qaeda: Bin Laden, al-Zawahri, al-Maqdisi, Abu Qatada and others. This literature urges people to consider jihad as an individual duty rather than a collective obligation, and it accuses the society and state of kufr because of their negligence in implementing God’s Sharia.
Magharebia: Are the factors that led to the growth of these Salafist groups in the Arab Maghreb political, social or ideological, or are there any other factors?
Allani: The growth of these Salafist groups in the Arab Maghreb is more due to political and social factors than it is to ideological factors. The wide gap between the social classes increases the state of social tensions, and the violent dealing with ethnic and cultural diversity has contributed to the instigation of sectarian feelings.
As to ideological factors, they come last.
Magharebia is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defence, Africa Command.