By Jemal Oumar
Osama bin Laden’s former mufti arrived in Nouakchott last week, extradited from Iran where he was held on charges of belonging to al-Qaeda.
Mahfouz Ould al-Walid (alias Abu Hafs al-Mauritani), formerly the third-in-command in the global al-Qaeda organisation in Afghanistan, was detained by Mauritanian security services upon his arrival from Tehran.
Abu Hafs had fled to Iran after the Taliban-led government was toppled in Afghanistan more than a decade ago, ANI reported April 5th. His arrival in Nouakchott was the result of intensive talks by Mauritania with Iran and the US to extradite him so that he may spend the rest of his life in his homeland.
He had served as a mufti for the parent al-Qaeda organisation for years. Abu Hafs was known for his opposition to the September 11th attacks and later fell out with the terror network, reversing a number of his positions that supported violent extremism.
“We received information from Mauritanian security confirming that he is now in the custody of Mauritanian security and that he’s in good health and enjoying all of his mental powers,” Ahmed Ould al-Walid, Abu Hafs’ brother and family spokesperson confirmed. “He’s now under intensive interrogations by the Mauritanian security to ascertain his ties with terrorist crimes and plans related to Mauritania.”
Speaking to Magharebia, Ahmed Ould al-Walid said: “as a family, we expect that he will spend the rest of his life in Mauritania based on documents proving his innocence from terrorist acts committed by al-Qaeda against targets in the world.”
“Such documents include several fatwas about the ideological revisions he conducted before September 11th in which he strongly opposed such criminal acts that targeted the United States and killed many innocent people,” his brother added. “They also include his rejection of killings and takfir, and we already handed a copy of these documents to Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz months ago.”
Sid Ahmed Ould Tfeil, a terror expert familiar with the biographies of al-Qaeda leaders, told Magharebia that the ideological revisions by a man of Abu Hafs’ stature would influence the positions of terrorists destabilising the Sahel region. He noted Abu Hafs was responsible for drafting fatwas in the parent al-Qaeda organisation, influencing terrorist branches around the world.
“Mauritania can take advantage of the presence of this man on its soil to send an appeal to many young people who embrace jihadist ideology and use killings against innocent people, especially as many of the acts that are now being committed are based on parent al-Qaeda’s Sharia fatwas,” he added. “Ould al-Walid was responsible for these fatwas at a certain point of time.”
Ould al-Walid’s wife arrived in Nouakchott last November from the Iranian capital with seven of her children after having been detained with her husband since 2001. She was also subjected to intensive interrogations by Mauritanian security when she arrived.
In the same vein, terror analyst Mohamed Mahmoud Aboulmaaly said Abu Hafs “was one of the closest men to late al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden who depended on him in fatwas. Ould al-Walid also taught bin Laden Islamic fiqh and Arabic language sciences before they had a disagreement when Ould al-Walid refused to give a fatwa for September 11th.”
“This was according to several texts which he wrote, such as a preface written by al-Qaeda colleague Suleiman Abu Ghaith two years ago,” the analyst noted. “Ould al-Walid’s texts included criticisms of al-Qaeda’s approach in which he enumerated 20 mistakes committed by al-Qaeda. In Salafist circles, the book was deemed as ideological revisions done by the man.”