Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) represented the primary terrorist threat to Mauritania. After two attacks in late December 2007 and two others in 2008, including the February attack against the Israeli embassy and the September attack in Tourine that cost the lives of 11 soldiers and their civilian guide, AQIM significantly increased its level of activity and severity of attacks.

  • On June 23, American citizen Christopher Leggett was murdered by two gunmen upon arriving at his workplace in Nouakchott. AQIM claimed responsibility for the murder, stating Leggett was targeted for Christian proselytizing activities.

  • On August 8, a suicide bomber affiliated with AQIM detonated his explosive belt next to the French Embassy compound in Nouakchott. There were no fatalities other than the attacker. This marks the first suicide bomber attack in Mauritania's history.

  • On November 29, three Spanish aid workers traveling in a caravan from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott were kidnapped by gunmen in an attack claimed by AQIM.

  • On December 18, AQIM kidnapped two Italians in Mauritania near the border with Mali who were believed to be held in Northern Mali at year's end.

The lawless eastern and northern regions of Mauritania were a haven for smugglers and terrorists. The porous borders with Algeria, Mali, and Western Sahara posed ongoing challenges for the ill-equipped and poorly funded Mauritanian security services. In the case of the Leggett murder and the suicide bomber attack, terrorists entered Mauritania from outside the country with the sole intention of carrying out operations. Through the year, there were specific threats against U.S. interests and citizens in Mauritania.

The August 6, 2008 coup d'etat against democratically elected President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi resulted in the suspension of all U.S. government non-humanitarian assistance, including most military cooperation and counterterrorism training to the junta-led government. Constitutional order was restored eleven months after the coup following Abdallahi's resignation and the naming of a transitional government of national unity that led the country to presidential elections on July 18, won by Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and recognized by the international community. The United States re-initiated its cooperation with the newly formed Mauritanian government in September. Programs focusing on counterterrorism included the Counterterrorism Fellowship Program training of military counterterrorism units under the Joint Combined Exercise Training Program, and an Anti-Terrorism Assistance border security program. Prior to the coup, the United States provided counterterrorism training to two Mauritanian units and plans to continue strengthening its military capacity.

In response to the increased terrorist threat in Mauritania, the government strengthened roadblocks and road security. In November, authorities announced the creation of a new Road Security Agency in charge of monitoring terrorist activity and all forms of trafficking on Mauritanian roads.

The government has consistently exhibited a willingness to cooperate with the United States to prevent and deter future acts of terrorism. Mauritanian authorities have been highly responsive to U.S. requests for security support, both for routine operations as well as special events, despite security forces' somewhat limited means.

The Mauritanian government has also displayed a willingness to both investigate and apprehend individuals involved in acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens or interests, as shown by the arrest of the entire terrorist cell responsible for planning and executing the Leggett murder. Two members of the cell were apprehended on July 17 and the remaining members were taken into custody days later.

As of December 31, the Mauritanian government held in custody approximately 66 terrorist suspects. Roughly thirteen of them have already been prosecuted and sentenced. In July, the Nouakchott court sentenced Abdel Jelil Ould Biye and Teyeb Ould Saleck, two terrorists who participated in the 2005 Lemgheity attack, to eight and seven years respectively. In November, the Government of Senegal extradited to Mauritania three Mauritanians allegedly implicated in the August 8 suicide bomber attack against the French Embassy.

Mauritania is a Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership country and also works with other regional partners and organizations to support its counterterrorism efforts, notably the Algerian-led counterterrorism coalition comprised of Algeria, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania. In order to improve regional coordination in the fight against terrorism, Mauritania participated in an August 12 meeting in Tamanrasset, Algeria with military chiefs of staff from Algeria, Mali, and Niger to draft a counterterrorism strategy for the Sahara. According to the agreement, Mauritania will deploy 4,000 soldiers to secure its borders with Mali and Algeria. Mauritania has strong bilateral military and counterterrorism cooperation with France.


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