Mauritanian Government Arrests
Terrorist Group Members
By Gabi Menezes
— The Mauritanian government says it has arrested seven leaders
of a terrorist cell, which the US military has linked to al-Qaida.
But, one analyst says that Mauritanian President Maaouiya Ould
Taya is using the threat of terrorism to crack down on his political
government says the men are members of an Algerian-led terrorist
group, called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. The
arrests were made in the Mauritanian capital, Noukachott.
of communications, Hamoud Ould Abdi, speaking from Mauritania,
said that he believes more men are in militant training camps
in the desert.
Mr. Abdi says
20 terrorists left Mauritania carrying sensitive information to
the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. The 20 guerrillas
are said to have been sent to a camp for training. The seven reportedly
were arrested on their return.
of the arrests drew criticism from Mauritania’s political opposition,
which says the government has used the threat of terrorism to
crack down on the Islamist opposition in the past.
Islamist political leader, Mohammed Gemil Ould, who is wanted
by the Mauritanian government for his Islamist political activities,
says the Islamists in the country are not extremists and just
Mr. Ould says
that the government is arresting people in order to strengthen
ties with the United States and other Western countries. He says
Islamists in the country have no connection with the Salafist
group or Al-Qaida.
a London-based analyst with Jane’s military group, says the situation
in Mauritania is complex because of the political divide between
the secular government and Islamic opposition in the Muslim country.
purges of Islamic elements within Mauritanian society and politics
began really in early 2003," said Richard Reeve. "Part
of the opposition within Mauritanian is opposed particularly to
the kind of secular government the president has got and particularly
the recognition of Israel ."
says it is likely that President Ould Taya is using terrorism
as an excuse to intimidate his Islamist political rivals.
extremist Salafist group, originally based in Algeria, is on the
U.S. list of terrorist organizations, and has been linked to al-Qaida.
U.S. Defense officials have expressed concern about the Salafist
group recruiting in the region. U.S. Army Special Forces troops
last year conducted a counter-terrorism training program with
military units in Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Niger, called the
an analyst with the Washington-based Africa Center for Strategic
Studies, part of the National Defense University, says he believes
al-Qaida is setting up cells or what he calls franchises all over
Africa, taking advantage of its political and economic weaknesses.
very much concerned about these franchise systems, and we think,
essentially in the long term, it’s going to give al-Qaida an ability
to establish a foothold in Africa, given the fact that Africa
continues to have tremendous vulnerabilities," said Kamal
The U.S. government
has been particularly worried about armed groups, which are able
to move freely through the Sahara crossing the borders of Mauritania,
Chad and Mali. Three years ago, the Salafists kidnapped 32 European
tourists in southern Algeria and held them for ransom.