By Jemal Oumar
Terrorists threatened to launch major assaults on the Mauritanian army before the holy month of Ramadan. But security analysts dismissed the warnings as bravado, indicative of al-Qaeda’s growing weakness.
Traders in the south-eastern border city of Bassiknou told Magharebia that they spoke with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters. The terrorists were showing off their strength by roaming the perimeter of the forest in five cross-desert vehicles.
“The Mauritanian army is saying that it has taken us out,” the terrorists reportedly told the traders. “Well, it’s not true, and they will see something that contradicts what they say.”
Two gunmen on motorbikes on Tuesday (July 26th) exchanged fire with a Mauritanian gendarmerie unit near the Malian border. They were able to flee into Mali after killing one gendarme.
Last month, AQIM suffered a heavy blow at the hands of the Mauritanian and Malian forces. Fifteen terrorists were killed in the Wagadou Forest.
“The geographic and demographic nature of the region where the Wagadou Forest is located, 56km south of the Mauritanian city of Bassiknou, allows AQIM members to move around freely in civilian clothes posing as traders or shepherds, especially since the dense forest is considered the preferable place for Mauritanian shepherds, given that their livestock graze there in the summer period,” said Yacoub Ould Bahdah, a journalist who specialises in terrorist groups.
The Mauritanian army’s success in crushing terrorists may force al-Qaeda to recast its strategy, according to analyst Mohamed Naji.
“Semi-certain information indicates that AQIM has abandoned a lot of their agents who were providing them with information on the movements of Mauritanian army in the wake of the latest attack that made them suffer heavy losses,” he said. “I think that they have recruited new agents who are not monitored.”
“As to the issue of the organisation flexing its muscles before local residents, it is an attempt to prove their presence in the minds of those residents,” Naji added. “In this way, they want to send a message that they are still capable of imposing their control on that area and have that ability to intimidate local residents.”
According to Sahara Media editor-in-chief Bechir Ould Babana, it is natural for al-Qaeda to “show its force” after every battle with the Mauritanian army.
“Al-Qaeda is dealing with the mentalities of northern Mali residents of Arab and Touareg origins who always support the stronger side regardless of their policies or goals,” added Ould Babana. “If AQIM appears to be weak before their eyes, they will co-operate with the Mauritanian army or Malian army and provide them with information.”
The analyst noted that AQIM used the “carrot-and-stick policy”. “If it suspects that someone is betraying it by collaborating with the Mauritanian army, it will take them out without any mercy,” he said. “In the meantime, it also provides a lot of financial incentives to tribal sheikhs in the region.”
Al-Qaeda’s “show of force” in fact reveals its vulnerability, said social expert Mohamed Ould Salek.
“The local residents started to feel that, which made AQIM announce a change of its strategy in selecting new agents, which is per se an acknowledgement of defeat,” he said.