By Bakari Guèye
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz spoke out against terrorism earlier this month, telling French media outlets he was resolute in the fight against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
“Mauritania has already gone into battle with the terrorists to protect its own borders, but it would also be helpful [to co-ordinate those actions] with other countries across the region to deal with the threat,” the president said in an April 15th interview aired by TV5 and RFI.
“European countries must act and ensure that ransoms are not paid to these terrorists in the future; those ransom payments help these terrorists to get stronger and continue their activities,” he said.
Regarding the situation in Mali, Ould Abdel Aziz cited a number of causes for the crisis, including “poor handling of irredentism in the north, a lack of authority in that region, a failure to abide by agreements reached, laxity from the authorities, and finally terrorism, which has come along on top of all that”.
In his view, “the terrorists who now hold sway in the north of Mali currently have better resources for action, better logistics, and the international community must act, because the whole of northern Mali is being held hostage.”
“The terrorists are very well equipped, and the Libyan conflict has only aggravated the proliferation of arms,” Ould Abdel Aziz added.
The president also revealed that the Mauritanian air force “destroyed a vehicle equipped with ground-to-air missiles on the border with Mali last August”.
“The enemy is well-known. The terrorists are moving around a 300-kilometre wide stretch of desert in Mali, obtaining supplies of food and fuel from three or four known towns, including Timbuktu and Gao. Those providing the supplies are known and documented, and we even have some of their registration numbers,” explained President Ould Abdel Aziz.
The Mauritanian president said he thought it was possible to defeat AQIM, saying it consisted of “no more than 300 men. That’s well within the reach of any state.”
Mohamed Ould Brahim, a university academic, lauded the president for his “undeniable success” in tackling terrorism.
“His policy of maintaining tight military control over the territory and the considerable resources given to the army has been quick to bear fruit,” Ould Brahim said. “The Mauritanian army has enjoyed a number of victories over AQIM and has managed to keep the terrorist organisation’s attempted attacks at bay.”
This view was shared by terror expert Cheikh Tourad Ould Eli: “If Ould Abdel Aziz had not gone for a strategy of preventive attacks against AQIM terrorist bases in Mali, then Mauritania would have suffered the same fate as Mali.”
The public seems to have found Ould Abdel Aziz’s words to journalists both reassuring and worrying at the same time.
Samba Thiam also praised the president for pursuing terrorists, saying “his preventive strategy against AQIM has saved Mauritania from an imminent terrorist threat; when you see what has happened in Mali, you can deduce that Abdel Aziz was right.”
“But now the Malian crisis has caused complications for Mauritania,” he added. “AQIM and its Ansar al-Din allies include many Mauritanians. Now they’re in a better position and better armed. Added to which, things are not very secure on the home front.”
“Then there’s the humanitarian crisis facing the Sahel. All of this provides fertile ground for the terrorists in the country. Mauritania finds itself between a rock and a hard place,” Thiam said.