Mauritania's fight against terrorism

The recent suicide bombing near the French embassy in Mauritania's capital has once again highlighted terrorist activity in the country, something that newly elected president Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz has promised to fight against.


AFP - Mauritanian authorities have blamed a young Islamist extremist for a suicide bombing near French embassy in the capital as France Sunday condemned the attack and pledged support to fight terrorism.

Three people, two of them French paramilitary gendarmes, were slightly injured in the attack, the first suicide bombing seen in Mauritania, a former French colony.

Mauritanian police sources told AFP late Saturday that the suicide bomber was a local man born in 1987 who had been "formally identified as a member of the Jihadist movement."

The bomber had a belt laden with explosives, police said, setting off the explosion a little before 7:00 pm local time near the wall of the French embassy complex.

Officials declined to comment when contacted by AFP on Sunday but there was little sign of extra security on the streets of Nouakchott.

Passers-by were nervous, however, suggesting that it was outsiders, not Mauritanians, who had put up the man to carry out the attack.

"We are tolerant Muslims," said Aica Sy, a housekeeper, arguing that the attacker most likely had been "brain-washed" outside the country.

On June 23, a US national working in Mauritania was shot dead in Nouakchott. A suspect was charged last week with his murder and belonging to Al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the extremist group's north African branch, claimed responsibility for the killing.

Three men are also in jail awaiting trial for the December 2007 killings of four French tourists at Aleg, in the south of the country. The three are suspected of being members of AQIM.

In Paris, the foreign ministry said France condemned "with the greatest firmness the attack ... in Nouakchott near the French embassy."

France assured Mauritania of its support in the continued fight against terrorism whilst also opening its own inquiry into the blast.

The attack came just three days after ex-coup leader Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz took the oath as president following contested elections.

Alain Joyandet, secretary of state for cooperation with France's former colonies, said he believed the attack was linked to the election of Ould Abdel Aziz "who has indicated that he is determined to attack Al-Qaeda.

"Obviously, France welcomes his position and so, to say that France is targetted, well you can't really say otherwise," Joyandet said.

Mauritanian journalist Isselmou Ould Moustapha, who writes on extremism for the weekly Tahalil Hebdo, said France was clearly in the firing line for its strong support for Mali against Al-Qaeda.

"In northern Mali, the army -- which is supported by France -- and Arab militias have put Al-Qaeda under heavy pressure since the killing there of a British hostage in June.

"As a result, young men in training camps in northern Mali have been returning home -- to Algeria, Chad, Niger and Mauritania," he said.

Mauritania's new president has so far not made a statement on Saturday's attack but warned of an emerging terrorist threat from disenchanted young people in an interview which took place before this weekend's blast.

"There is an emerging terrorism at home," he told the New African magazine to be published Monday.

"Like every country, we have young people who are sometimes led astray, who find themselves sometimes caught in a big net. They are then recruited, trained and sometimes turn against their own country. We must fight this phenomenon, in a joint effort with other partner countries," he said.


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