By Jemal Oumar
A self-proclaimed leader of Nigeria’s Boko Haram recently alleged that some of the terror group’s militants were once trained in Mauritania.
Mellam Ali Tshau told a Nigerian TV station that Mauritanian Islamists trying to overthrow the government of President Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya in 2004 recruited Nigerians to their cause, providing them training before they returned home. The comments were reported by Afrique en Ligne on September 21st.
Tshau claimed that Mauritania “exported” Boko Haram to Nigeria, saying that the Mauritanian-trained recruits returned to form the armed wing of the terror network known as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad).
Of even greater concern to Tshau was the security impact of the Libyan conflict on the region. “Mauritania, which doesn’t have economic means, was able to export Boko Haram to Nigeria,” he said. “How then about Libya, that has huge financial resources? Can’t it, in view of the current chaos in the country, export to Nigeria something that is more dangerous than Boko Haram?”
Boko Haram has been blamed for a number of high profile terrorist attacks in Nigeria, including the recent UN bombing in Abuja that left 23 people dead.
Mauritanian journalist Rabbi Ould Idoumou said that the Nigerian terror leader “was not speaking without a basis”. He said there were links between Islamists and those seeking to overthrow the then-Mauritanian government. He also said that some Nigerian Muslims “owe allegiance to some figures that represent religious marji’yas for Mauritania’s Islamists”.
“The efforts of many religious currents, which were sometimes discordant, were united against Ould Taya’s regime as their common enemy,” Ould Idoumou said in reference to the 2004 events. “This included the alliance that was created at that time between the Muslim Brotherhood in Mauritania and the Jihadist Salafist movement, whose elements are now in prison because of terrorism.”
Analyst al-Moukhtar al-Salem told Magharebia that he believed the elements referred to by the Boko Haram leader were the Salafists currently in Mauritanian prison.
“If we get back to the history of that period, we will remember that the then-Mauritanian government said that there were plans to carry out terrorist acts in Mauritania,” al-Salem added. “However, public opinion didn’t believe such a story at that time because of the political and social tensions in the country and the increased opposition to his regime.”
Political expert Ali Ould Ahmed Val speculated that the Boko Haram leader was referring to Islamists allied with 2003 coup-plotter Saleh Ould Hanenna. “It was said that Mauritanian Islamists were supporting such an attempt, and given the relations between them and other Islamists in Africa, they might have recruited some Nigerian elements,” he added.
In his turn, journalist Mohammed Abdallah Ould al-Talib didn’t rule out links between Nigerians and radical religious currents in Mauritania.
“This is because many Nigerians who are currently taking up arms as part of Boko Haram had studied in Mauritania’s mahdharas and graduated at the hands of their sheikhs, some of who were strongly opposing Ould Taya’s regime,” he alleged.
“We all remember the arrest campaign that Ould Taya’s regime launched against the leaders of religious currents in Mauritania whereby most of them, whether extremists or moderates, were thrown to prison,” Ould al-Talib added. “We can’t also forget the statements of some of his ministers about turning mosques to bakeries; provoking the generally religious Mauritanian public opinion against him and prompting some Salafist opposition figures to declare jihad and ally with the devil against his regime.”