By Raby Ould Idoumou
Mauritanian security forces last week conducted a large-scale operation in Nouakchott, dealing a severe blow to the country’s Salafist jihadist groups. Nineteen suspects were arrested, including a prominent al-Qaeda sympathiser.
The raid, launched on November 22nd, was based on information obtained by a Mauritanian terror threat monitoring body. According to security sources, the suspects were planning massive terror operations on Mauritanian Army Day (November 25th), which included the biggest military parade since the country’s independence.
Nineteen Salafists believed to be affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) were detained. Among them was Mohamed Salem Ould Mohamed Lemine, alias Almajlissi, who was released last year under a presidential pardon. Almajlissi had spent three years in jail for issuing a fatwa to three young Salafists about the permissibility of targeting French nationals. The fatwa led to the 2007 Aleg terrorist attack, which killed four French tourists.
Security agencies suspected that Almajlissi might have been recruiting young people in Nouakchott for armed organisations in the desert.
He is also believed to be the sharia mufti of “Ansar Allah Almourabitoun” group. Almajlissi refused to partake in a dialogue between a committee of scholars and Salafist prisoners. He also declined to receive a loan from the state after he was released.
In May, Almajlissi defied security authorities and held prayers to commemorate Osama bin Laden at al-Shorafaa Mosque after its imam, Mohamed Lamine Ould al-Hasan, withdrew to avoid embarrassment.
“We would have liked to hang posters and rally people to attend the prayers,” Majlissi said. “Yet, many people attended it, and we co-ordinated with some brothers who attended and they raised their hands up to pray for mercy for Osama bin Laden.”
The prayer largely drew adherents of Salafist ideology. Mauritanian religious scholars neither attended nor encouraged it.
In his radical sermons at the Badah Ould Busayri mosque, Almajlissi lashed out at the West and insisted that “Muslims must not love the infidels”. While his teachings lured some disenchanted youths, many believe they contravene the core values of Islam, such as co-existence and tolerance.
AQIM has used Mauritania as a rear base to recruit fighters in the past five years and bet on local preachers to reach young people to form a community of sympathisers. In this light, the recent operation comes as a significant blow to extremist ideology.
Sahel security agencies recently argued for demolishing the wells that provide water to AQIM along the Mauritanian-Algerian-Malian border. The measure is akin to targeting radical ideologues as both are aimed at drying up the sources that jihadist groups depend on.