By Raby Ould Idoumou
A group of Tintane residents and traders earlier this month called on local security officials to step up patrols to avoid al-Qaeda infiltration into the economically dynamic eastern Mauritanian border city.
“The absence of continuous security patrols, especially at night, threatens people’s lives and properties,” the group’s spokesman Mohamed Lamine said in a statement to media.
Referring to repeated night robberies of shops in the new city market, he claimed that there is no security protection – something that makes it vulnerable to criminal networks’ activities.
According to Lamine, police don’t run night patrols, leaving the city open to thieves.
“I fear that gunmen affiliated to al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) may enter the city taking advantage of lack of inspection at border crossings,” Lamine said to Sahara Media.
The reported absence of security for a number of vital facilities in Tintane, which hosts the biggest market in eastern Mauritania, prompted the residents’ demand for Mauritanian security authorities to protect the sensitive location and its economic activities from danger.
Located on the border with three Mauritanian provinces and on the main road that links Nouakchott to eastern Mauritania, the city has hundreds of vehicles and people enter it on a daily basis. It is also located where AQIM strongholds are reportedly based.
Tintane is known for witnessing the most dangerous flood in Mauritanian history in 2007. However, with the influx of foreign labourers to the city from Mali, Senegal and Gambia, the city has become associated with the widespread activities of criminal networks and thieves that have started to invade the markets. Today, traders, most affected by the lack of protection, see themselves and visiting foreigners as potential victims to a flood of terrorist groups seeking to exploit the lack of security.
According to market trader Boubakr Sheikhu, the market doesn’t have security surveillance and the police patrols don’t protect it at night. He told Magharebia that some traders hire their own security to do the job.
Fellow trader Sidi Mohamed Ould Sidi dismissed the thefts that took place at some shops as “insignificant. Still, he expressed fear that some elements affiliated to AQIM may sneak into the country through border crossings that don’t properly check identification.
“Security services here are limited,” another trader al-Moustapha Ould Sidi said. He attributed the lack of security to a lack of capability and equipment in light of the enormous responsibility placed on police shoulders.
“The police are supposed to secure the central town area and the market, to run night patrols across the city (especially at the market area), and to crack down on criminal and smuggling networks which cross the area almost every day,” he explained.
“More efforts are needed,” he added.
Tintane police commissioner Bab Ahmed Ould Bakai denied “any security breaches in town”. He told Magharebia that police patrols attend to security at border crossings, the central town area, as well as at the markets.
He explained that the entry of African nationals, whether Senegalese, Malians or Gambians, comes in the framework of mutual co-operation between Mauritania and these countries and in a legal framework and security arrangements, confirming that all people are subject to security checks by gendarmes and police at border crossings.
Ould Bakai added that his police force is not expected to secure all border crossings that lead to town, but at the same time he confirmed good co-ordination between his agency and a number of other security sectors related to such issues affecting security in Tintane.
Rajel Ould Oumar, a correspondent for Sahara Media in eastern Mauritania, said that the residents’ concern shows that they look forward to more security and that they are willing to be “partners in combating terrorism”.
He also said that, given the internal security protection by the police, gendarmes and other security agencies, as well as continuous movements by army forces along the Mauritanian border to monitor any threats by terrorist groups: “There is no direct threat against the city.”