By Raby Ould Idoumou
Mauritanian gendarmes on Thursday (May 4th) arrested two men of plotting to bomb Nouakchott for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), on the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden’s death.
Police stopped a truck carrying a number of Mauritanian citizens at a border crossing between Mauritania and Mali in Guidimaka province, Sid Ahmed Salem, a high ranking officer with Mauritanian military intelligence and a member of a counter-terror squad told Magharebia.
Upon searching the passengers, they apprehended the two Malian suspects.
The gendarmerie found weapons and explosives on board, as well as maps, sophisticated electronic devices, and Malian passports in the suspects’ possession – all of which, the source said, were intended to carry out large-scale bombings and operations to mark the first anniversary of Osama Bin Laden’s death.
“We’re dealing very seriously with the issue,” he said. “Mauritania has already sent broad warnings to all checkpoints to be vigilant.”
The detainees were transferred to Nouakchott to be investigated by the Mauritanian counter-terrorism and organised crime security agencies.
“According to initial investigations, the available bits of evidence show that the two defendants don’t have full membership in the terrorist organisation, AQIM, which tries to carry out acts of sabotage from time to time deep into Mauritania,” said journalist Abdallah al-Fath, who covered the arrest.
When the suspects were handed over to investigators in Nouakchott, they found a CD containing speeches by al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in one of their bags, according to another inside source who spoke with Magharebia on condition of anonymity.
“The operation may be a ‘lone wolf’ suicide mission,” al-Fath said.
A senior member of AQIM during an interview with Sahara Media Agency denied the allegations that anyone from his group was arrested. He said that the story was leaked by Mauritanian security agencies.
The official identified himself as a member of al-Tawhid wal Jihad who spoke to media on behalf of Ansar al-Din.
“AQIM has contacted all of its units and groups present on the border and they had not reported any disappearances,” he said.
The news of the plot coincided with a drive on the part of Mauritanian authorities to beef up security along the Mauritanian-Malian border.
“Mauritania’s closure of its eastern border with Mali and its reinforcement of security on such borders following the recent events have started to bear fruit,” analyst al-Mokhtar al-Salem said.
In response to AQIM’s denial of the arrests, a media source in Timbuktu told Magharebia: “Al-Qaeda is pressuring some journalists to deny news of the arrest of its members and is threatening that they would receive no protection in the conflict area.”
He added that some journalists don’t give in to threats and said that they “came to report the news and not to boost the image of terrorist groups”.
According to journalist Mohamed Ould Sid al-Mokhtar, al-Qaeda and other affiliated terrorist groups have been trying since February 2011 to carry out retaliatory attacks after two of its members were killed and 11 soldiers and officers were wounded in a car bomb blast in al-Riyadh following a days-long manhunt for Salafist fighters who entered Mauritanian soil coming from al-Qaeda camps in northern Mali.
Guidimaka province political activist Mohamed Vall Ould Ma’teli said that, in spite of the heated political atmosphere in Mauritania, the added security at the border has thwarted terrorist infiltration to central Mauritania.
He praised the government effort to protect the country’s vital interests, including foreign interests that are mostly based in Nouakchott.