Salafists indicted in Mauritania —ex-junta leader next?

A Mauritanian court indicted six men on terrorism charges April 11—the same day al-Qaeda’s North African wing claimed responsibility for two deadly blasts in Algeria. The six are said to belong to a local cell linked to “al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. Five of the six were charged with “belonging to a terrorist organization whose aim is undermining national security,” said chief prosecutor Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Talhata. He said the cell, known as the Mauritanian Group for the Teaching of Jihad, is allied with the authors of the Algerian attack. Talhata said authorities had been tracking the men for three months when they arrested them two weeks ago in Nouakchott, the capital. They were caught with a cache of weapons, including Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

AP reports: “The government of Mauritania…has been battling the Salafist guerrillas since a 2005 attack on an army barracks killed 17 people. Since then, nearly 30 suspected Salafists have been imprisoned on charges of ‘partaking in terrorist activities.'” (AP, April 13)

It should be noted that the June 2005 barracks attack came immediately after an attempted coup d’etat, which saw brief street fighting in the capital. Following the attack on the remote Sahara military outpost, the regime organized state-sponsored “anti-terrorism” rallies in Nouakchott. (IRIN, June 9, 2005)

A January 2007 report from the Pan-African News Agency (PANA) on the website of the exile-based African Liberation Forces of Mauritania (FLAM) says that the Mauritanian Association of Widows and Orphans (AVOMM), another exile-based body, is planning on bringing charges against the leader of the military junta who stepped down following Mauritania’s supposed democratic transition last month. AVOMM president Ousmane Sarr said in Paris that his organization has sufficient evidence to file suit for “crimes of torture and assassination” against Ely Mohamed Ould Vall, who took power by military coup in August 2005 with a pledge to bring democracy.

AVOMM acuses Vall of direct involvement in the policy of genocide against Black Mauritanian citizens between 1989 and 1991. For 21 years, Vall served as the chief of “Mukaabaraat” (military secret police) under the dictatorship of Maouya Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya, who he finally ousted in 2005. Taya has already been indicted by the International Court of Justice for killing more than 600 Black Mauritanian civilians in the villages of Inal, Jreida, and Nema, in the southern part of the country; and the forced deportations of more than 120,000 others to Senegal and Mali.

“The lawsuit will take effect as soon as Ely Ould Mohamed Vall leaves office in March 2007 and will no longer have immunity as a head of state,” pledged Ousmane Sarr.

See our last posts on Mauritania, the struggle in the Sahel, and the politics of African genocide.