Overview: The Mauritanian government continued to prioritize counterterrorism in 2013, focusing on improving the capacity of security forces and securing the country's borders. Mauritania is not a safe haven for terrorists or terrorist groups, although regions in the interior are imperfectly monitored due to their geographic isolation from population centers and inhospitable desert conditions. Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) remained a leading threat to Mauritania in 2013. Mauritania is a member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). There were no terrorist attacks in Mauritania in 2013.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Mauritania's counterterrorism legal framework is relatively new. Enacted in 2010, the national counterterrorism laws define terrorism as a criminal act, describe court procedure in terrorism cases, and prescribe punishment for perpetrators. The Mauritanian government continued to send prosecutors and investigative magistrates to terrorism prosecution trainings organized by the United States and other international partners. In 2013, Mauritanian law enforcement participated in the U.S. Department of State's Antiterrorism Assistance program, which helped to build capacity in the areas of border security, investigations, and crisis response.

Mauritanian law enforcement has adequate capacity to detect, deter, and prevent terrorism. Although Mauritanian security forces may have successfully deterred or prevented acts of terrorism during 2013, they did not face any great tests of capacity. Mauritania's National Gendarmerie, a paramilitary police agency within the Ministry of Defense, and the National Guard under the Ministry of Interior are the primary law enforcement units performing counterterrorism functions. Cooperation and information-sharing between the two organizations occurred sporadically.

Border security is a priority of the Mauritanian government, but it remains far from perfect due to a lack of capacity and a standing policy that delegates responsibility for different sections of the country's long land borders to different security forces. Mauritania's border forces employ biometric screening capabilities at some – but not all – ports of entry. Information-sharing efforts within the host government and with other countries are embryonic.

Mauritanian authorities continued to arrest, prosecute, and convict terrorists. In the course of the year, the Mauritanian judiciary handled five individual terrorism-related cases:

  • On April 14, the Supreme Court of Mauritania upheld a death sentence imposed on a Mauritanian citizen convicted of murdering a U.S. citizen at the behest of AQIM. It also denied appeals of two prison sentences for the same crime, and returned the cases to the country's appellate court.

  • On May 14, Mauritanian soldiers arrested a Tunisian and an Algerian on suspicion of membership in armed Islamic groups in Bassikounou, a city situated in the country's southeastern corner along the border with Mali. After transfer to Nouakchott for interrogation, the suspects were placed in pre-trial detention pending the completion of an investigation.

  • Also on May 14, Nouakchott's criminal court sentenced Abdellahi Ould Gheilani, a Mauritanian gendarme, to 10 years in prison for collaborating with AQIM during a suspected reconnaissance of a Mauritanian airbase. On the same day, a judge from the same court sentenced four students from the Islamic University of Aioun to five years in prison apiece for membership in an unspecified group "planning terrorist attacks in Mauritania."

  • On May 19, Mauritanian security forces took into custody Senda Ould Bouamama, the former spokesman of Ansar al-Dine, who voluntarily surrendered and requested trial in Mauritania, his native country. Bouamama has since been placed in pre-trial confinement pending completion of the government's investigation against him.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Mauritania is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body, and maintains observer status within the Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa. Smuggling and transshipments via the country pose a vulnerability that has been exploited by terrorists. Bulk cash smuggling is another vulnerability given the undeveloped financial markets of the country.

From May 12 to 16 in Nouakchott, Mauritanian investigative magistrates, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and financial intelligence experts joined counterparts from Niger and the United States to discuss new and innovative ways to enforce laws aimed at countering terrorist financing and money laundering.

Although legislation regulating alternative remittances exists, the Mauritanian government does not have the resources to monitor sizable flows of funds through the informal hawala money transfer system.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2014 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 remained an active member of the UN and the AU. On March 17, the Mauritanian government hosted the AU's Ministerial Meeting on the Enhancement of Cooperation in Security and the Operationalization of the African Peace and Security Architecture in the Sahel-Saharan Region. In his opening remarks, Foreign Minister Hamadi Ould Hamadi called for a common strategic vision for the Sahel that could ensure the territorial integrity of Mali and defend against the threat of organized crime.

On November 3, Mauritania co-hosted a meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum's Working Group on Capacity Building (AU, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Qatar, Russia, Spain, Turkey, the UK, and the International Organization for Migration) in Nouakchott. The conference focused on Mauritania's civilian capacity gaps, particularly in the civilian criminal justice sector, and on the coordination of donor capacity building efforts in that area.

Countering Radicalization to Violence and Violent Extremism: The Mauritanian government continued to manage programs designed to counter violent extremism and to offer alternatives to at-risk individuals. In 2013, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Traditional Education trained over 300 former mahadra (Quranic school) students in vocational subjects at three education centers in Nouakchott, Atar, and Kaedi. The Mauritanian government also continued to collaborate with independent Islamic religious organizations to promote moderation, sponsoring radio and TV programming on the themes of temperance in Islam, and paying monthly salaries of US $170 to 800 imams who fulfilled stringent selection criteria. In September, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Traditional Education organized a training seminar for 137 imams across the country in cooperation with the Institute for Islamic Studies in Nouakchott. The program stressed responsibility for encouraging moderate interpretations of Islamic doctrine.


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