By Jemal Oumar
Senegalese security services recently thwarted the first reported infiltration attempt by suspected members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Ten militants were arrested on July 5th in Dagana, a town along the Mauritanian border. The operation came less than a month after AQIM threatened to target Senegal following the country’s declaration to send a military force to northern Mali.
Among the detainees were seven Mauritanians, including students of Arabic and religious studies in Senegal.
“The group was transferred to capital Dakar by a special forces team that specifically came to support security in the area during the arrest,” City Info reported on July 6th. According to the Senegalese daily, suspected terrorists were planning to enter Mauritania.
In related news, security forces detained ten mosque imams and students suspected of planning terror acts in the northeastern town of Matam, Senegal’s Xamle.net reported on July 6th.
“This incident has sown panic among the residents of this city which has never seen similar cases of this sort,” town resident Belal Ould Sheikhna told Magharebia. “Rather, people here look at students of religious schools with much respect and reverence.”
Senegal has been somewhat untouched by terror threats in the past ten years, unlike its northern neighbours. It is explained by “the presence of Sufi Islam and the weak presence of Muslim Brotherhood “, according to Yacoub Ould Bahdah, editor of the Senegalese edition of Mauritania’s al-Akhbar.
“In addition, Senegal hasn’t witnessed political tensions or dictatorial regimes that lead young people to extremism and violent reactions,” he added.
The fact that al-Qaeda is seeping into Senegal shows that “terrorism no longer has hidden targets”, according to the journalist.
“We can say that Senegal has always avoided the option of confrontation with terrorist groups,” he concluded. “Its role was restricted to monitoring the movements of wanted individuals on its soil until they are expelled, such as the case of Khadim Ould Semane and the group of young people who killed the French tourists in 2007. As to Senegal’s possible participation in a military force in northern Mali, it’s only a political commitment.”
The country has started implementing a series of precautionary measures in co-ordination with West African countries and France.
Dakar on July 6th hosted a regional meeting of West African countries to tackle ways to counter terrorist threats to civil aviation.
The participants launched the Priority Solidarity Fund for Support of Civil Aviation Security in Africa (ASACA) in co-ordination with the French foreign ministry.
“West African states have drawn up a common plan for countering the growing terrorist threat in the region as something that hits invisible targets,” Panapress quoted Aubin Sagna, office manager of Senegal’s Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, as saying.
“The situation in Africa now has resulted from the growth of known and unknown terrorist groups,” he added. “It’s also the result of growing hatred and intolerance. All this requires regional countries to establish a plan to firmly counter it, and also requires co-ordinating efforts and enhancing the effectiveness of personnel tasked with protecting aviation industry.”
“In addition, there is a need to share technological information on aviation security to conform to international systems,” Sagna concluded.