By Jemal Oumar
The Mali conflict is having unexpected repercussions on its neighbour to the west.
As the military action across the border entered its second week, Mauritania dismantled a student group allegedly tied to jihadists in Mali.
“Mauritanian police arrested eight students of the Islamic University in Laâyoune, 800km northeast of Nouakchott, and accused them of having ties with the extremist Islamist groups in northern Mali,” Sahara Media reported on Monday (January 21st).
Another young Mauritanian was arrested Monday in Guerou, 600km east of Nouakchott, Al-Akhbar reported.
The increase in extremist activity followed a string of “fatwas, which were issued by some clerics in the first week of the war, that sympathised with jihadist groups”, analyst al-Mokhtar al-Salem said.
“Those young people may not have direct ties with the terrorist groups as much as they sympathise with them and want to join them to take up arms. I attribute this kind of behaviour to excessive enthusiasm in those young people, lack of experience and their fall as victims to radical clerics’ fatwas,” he added.
Al-Salem said that such cases would recur if the war continued.
“These were the same circumstances that made some young people travel to Afghanistan and Iraq in the past. The authorities have to step up to dispel doubts and confusions in young people and explain the difference between the war on terror and war on oppressed peoples,” he said.
The arrests and on-going war in Mali prompted Mauritanian border guards and gendarmes to run night patrols along their border to prevent infiltrations, and check arriving Malian refugees to make sure fighters were not among them, L’Authentique reported.
Security measures were also beefed up around the French embassy and high school buildings in Nouakchott, to prevent any terror attempt to seize foreign hostages, as occurred at Algeria’s In Amenas gas facility.
Army units completed their deployment earlier this week along the country’s eastern border with Mali and enhanced their presence with additional elements from the national gendarmerie and guards, security affairs analyst Zain Al-Abidin Ould Mohamed told Magharebia.
They also advised citizens to be cautious in their dealings with anyone who crossed the border, he added.
“This is because bombardment started to affect areas close to Mauritanian cities and can hit anyone who moves in the area,” he said.
Fassala is the geographically closest point to areas shelled by French fighter planes.
On Monday, security forces there arrested an Ansar al-Din gunman while he was trying to cross the border, L’Authentique reported.