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Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 - Mauritania

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 31 July 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 - Mauritania, 31 July 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/501fbcaca.html [accessed 29 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Overview: The Government of Mauritania continued to address terrorism threats proactively. Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) remained a threat, which was most visibly demonstrated by the group's attempt to mount a coordinated attack in the capital in February. Mauritania applied effective measures to counter terrorist activity and enhanced initiatives launched in 2010. The government continued to prosecute terrorists, supported efforts to reinforce regional cooperation, allocated additional resources to the national de-radicalization program, and continued training with its partners to enhance border security and law enforcement capacity. Significantly, improved coordination between Mauritania and Mali led to successful joint operations in areas close to the shared border and increased the ability of both countries to counter the transnational threat posed by AQIM.

Under the framework of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, U.S. training of small infantry and support units continued in 2011. Mauritania also participated in the Department of State's Antiterrorism Assistance program.

2011 Terrorist Incidents: On December 20, AQIM abducted a gendarme from his post in Adel Bagrou, approximately 1,700 kilometers east of Nouakchott near the border with Mali. The abduction followed a series of successful Mauritanian military operations against AQIM.

On July 5, the Mauritanian military successfully repelled an AQIM attack led by a 17-vehicle convoy against a garrison in Bassiknou, near the southeastern border with Mali, and killed six terrorists. AQIM stated the strike on the outpost was planned as retaliation for a joint Mauritanian-Malian raid on June 26 in Mali, known as Operation Benkan, which killed 15 AQIM members and left two Mauritanian soldiers dead.

While these events occurred in the border zone with Mali, Nouakchott was the target of a foiled truck-bombing plot on February 1-2. The Mauritanian military successfully interdicted three vehicles attempting to attack the French Embassy and assassinate President Aziz. Mauritanian forces captured one vehicle containing 1.2 tons of explosives, munitions, and logistics equipment roughly 200 kilometers south of Nouakchott, along with two of the three individuals involved. The Mauritanian military then neutralized a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) 12 kilometers southeast of Nouakchott, killing both terrorists involved. This was the third attempted suicide attack in Mauritania after AQIM attacked the military barracks in Nema by VBIED in August 2010, and a lone suicide bomber targeted the French Embassy in Nouakchott in August 2009.

Legislation and Law Enforcement: After passing a new counterterrorism law in July 2010, Mauritania continued to revise legislation, vigorously prosecute individuals suspected of terrorism, and train security forces and judicial officials. On May 5, Mauritania launched an initiative to modernize identity documents and enroll Mauritanian citizens and foreign residents in a national electronic database. The impetus for the development of secure identity documents stemmed from a desire to replace the current, non-machine readable, handwritten passports with state of the art biometric technology and accurately identify individuals at ports of entry. The new government agency charged with executing this project, the National Agency of the Population Register and Secure Documents, under the Ministry of Interior, has verified the identity of 100,000 individuals since it was established.

The EU signaled the priority it accords to assisting Mauritanian border security with a ceremony held on September 18, along with the Spanish Civil Guard, to mark the U.S. $2.6 million investment in Project Western Sahel, which will introduce new technology for border screening and training programs for border control personnel.

Mauritania continued its efforts to convict major terrorist suspects in judicial proceedings. The significant terrorism trials of May 2010 were followed by several high-profile trials and convictions in 2011. On March 20, four individuals were sentenced to death and one individual to two years in prison and a U.S. $1,700 fine for their role in the September 2008 attack against Mauritanian soldiers in Tourine. On March 21, one Mauritanian and two Malian citizens received prison terms ranging from two to five years for the December 2009 kidnapping of an Italian couple near the Malian border. The Mauritanian judiciary convicted 33 terrorists in 2011, bringing the number of convictions to a total of 140 since 2009.

On October 17, the Ministry of Justice and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime launched a four-day training seminar with 20 local magistrates to discuss the judicial framework for fighting terrorism and organized crime. In early October, Mauritanian security service personnel participated in the Trans-Sahara Security Symposium sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott.

Mauritania cooperated closely with the United States to resolve the case of an American citizen killed in June 2009 by AQIM in Nouakchott. On March 15, three terrorists were convicted for the murder. Mohamed Abdallahi Ould Mohamed Salem Ould H'Mednah (Abou Anas), Sidi Mohamed Ould Bezeid (Abou Qotada), and Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Ahmed Salem were charged with pre-meditated murder and unlawful membership in an illegal organization. H'Mednah, who was accused as the shooter in the death of the American citizen, received the death penalty and was fined US $19,000; Bezeid was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and Salem received a three-year prison term. The public prosecutors lodged an appeal after the trial seeking harsher sentences; the appeal was pending at year's end.

Countering Terrorist Finance: Mauritania is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. Mauritania's Financial Intelligence Unit, the Financial Information Analysis Commission, includes representatives of the Mauritanian Ministries of Finance and Justice, as well as the customs authority, national police, and Gendarmerie working together to identify, investigate, prevent, and prosecute financial crimes linked to narcotics and terrorist finance networks. Although there is legislation regulating money or value transfer systems, Mauritania did not have the resources to monitor the sizable flow of funds through hawala or other money/value transfer systems.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, we refer you to the 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.

Regional and International Cooperation: Mauritania was committed to enhancing regional cooperation across the Sahel. A founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum and Combined Operational General Staff Committee (CEMOC), Mauritania assumed CEMOC's rotating chairmanship on November 21 from Mali. Nouakchott hosted a summit for chiefs of defense on November 15 and for defense ministers on December 11 under the framework of the 5+5 Defense Initiative drawing together Mauritania, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Malta. At the December 11 5+5 meeting, Mauritanian Defense Minister Radhi led the call for an end to the practice of paying ransoms to hostage-takers.

On December 1, Mauritania signed a cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia to strengthen cooperation in the fight against terrorism, crime, and drug trafficking. A high-level Mauritanian delegation attended the 10th Mauritanian-Algerian Monitoring Committee on November 15 in Algiers. Mauritania's Foreign Minister Hamadi hosted bilateral talks with his Malian counterpart in Nouakchott July 28-29 following the regional meeting to reinforce regional cooperation held in Bamako on May 20 between Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, and Niger.

An important example of improved regional cooperation, particularly between Mauritania and Mali, was demonstrated in the aftermath of the failed February 1-2 truck-bomb plot when the Malian authorities identified the leader of the attack in their territory and extradited him and others to Mauritania. In addition to the joint Operation Benkan mentioned above, Mauritania carried out air strikes against AQIM elements in the Ouagadou forest area in Mali in October.

Mauritania co-sponsored the UNGA Resolution passed in November condemning the Iranian plot against the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism: Mauritania continued its rehabilitation program for repentant extremists. It provided 35 former prisoners with U.S. $7,000 each as seed capital for revenue-generating enterprises to encourage their reintegration. Mauritanian authorities confirmed that among the original 52 extremists granted amnesty last year, one was involved in the February 1-2 truck-bomb attack and was killed during the counterterrorist operation. While two others have returned to terrorist training camps and four others are missing, these recidivist rates compare favorably with other programs.

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