By Jemal Oumar
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) confirmed last week that the regional terror group was using landmines to maintain control of Mali’s Wagadou Forest.
In an October 4th statement posted on mauripress.info, AQIM said it planted the mines to prevent people from “approaching mujahideens’ centres” in the area.
At least one Mauritanian civilian has been killed by the weapons, with two Malians wounded, according to Sahara Media.
Sidi Mohammed Ould Abdullah, a resident of the Mauritanian town of Bassiknou, was killed by an anti-personnel mine September 23rd while reportedly looking for scrap metal left over from the June AQIM-Mauritanian army clashes in the Wagadou Forest.
“While they were looking for such items, they found a cover thrown along the road. When they tried to find out what was there under it, a huge blast took place, killing one of them and wounding others,” according to Mohammed Ould Sidi, a resident of Lira, a village located near Wagadou Forest.
Some AQIM elements “contacted the residents of Twal, a village located 35 kilometres south of Bassiknou near the Wagadou Forest, to apologise for the killing of the victim who died in the mine blast in Wagadou, and also to confirm that they planted those mines against the Mauritanian and Malian armies,” Hayna Ould Zemzam, a resident of Twal village, told Magharebia.
Both Mali and Mauritania are signatories to the international treaty banning landmines.
“Mauritanian and Malian military officials accused AQIM of planting mines in the border areas during the military confrontations between these armies and AQIM last June,” analyst Abdul Salam Ould Adah told Magharebia.
“AQIM’s use of mines is a new plan to fortify their strongholds against civilians who roam these areas, as AQIM now fears that agents may be deployed among local populations to work for the account of Mauritanian and Malian armies,” Ould Adah said.
Terror group expert Mohammed Ould Abdullah agreed that the mine laying was part of the organisation’s defensive strategy.
“Mine-laying operations have certainly increased after the armed confrontation,” Ould Abdullah said. “They adopted it during the last confrontation with the Mauritanian army fearing that the army would storm the forest on the ground after attacking their positions from the air.”
Meanwhile, journalist Mohammed Ould Zain believes that the “naivety of local populations and their lack of the sense of security make them fall victim to these mines that might have been planted in a haphazard way”.