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.