Mauritania warns against al-Qaeda
Stephane Barbier and Hademine Ould Sadi
Nouakchott - Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has warned regional efforts to combat al-Qaeda's north African branch are insufficient despite a growing recognition of the need to pool resources.
In an interview with AFP, Ould Abdel Aziz said he did not want Western intervention in the battle against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) but added that the threat the organisation posed did not stop at any border.
"Terrorism has no borders, hence the need to combine efforts of all states, with a commitment from everybody, and the dynamics of teamwork," Ould Abdel Aziz said in the interview at the presidential palace in Nouakchott.
While he said recent gatherings of ministers from the Sahel countries - Mauritania, Algeria, Mali and Niger - illustrated a "heightened awareness" in the region of the danger posed by AQIM, there was still a long way to go.
"What we are doing together is insufficient, otherwise we could have eradicated this terrorist phenomenon," he said.
AQIM emerged in early 2007 as an offshoot of a radical Algerian Islamist movement, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.
The group has since carried out attacks and kidnappings, as well as trafficked drugs, in the four countries with common borders in the Sahel.
In 2010 and 2011 Mauritania decided to carry out military actions against AQIM in northern Mali after determining the area was being used as a launchpad for its attacks.
Need regional structure
"Action was needed to prevent attacks [in Mauritania] and to destabilise their positions and drive them further from our territory," said the president.
The withdrawal of his troops from Mali two months ago has been followed by the establishment of new AQIM units near the border, notably in Mali's western Wagadou forest.
"Of course, this worries us, but we have taken the necessary measures to deal with this situation," said Ould Abdel Aziz.
But despite his fears about AQIM, he refused to advocate intervention by Western countries, such as the former colonial power France which retains a strong military presence in francophone west Africa.
"I don't think that this is a necessity, really. What first needs doing is to set up a structure at regional level, with effective co-ordination, to carry out actions by the states affected by the threat."
According to Ould Abdel Aziz, AQIM is not short of finance, thanks in part to the ransom payments it has received for hostages it has captured over time.
"This enables them to equip themselves and recruit people, to step up their activity, especially if nothing is done afterwards, if they are not pursued."
Another source of concern for the president was the prospect of weapons from conflict-torn Libya, which borders Algeria and Niger, falling into the hands of the extremists.
"It [Libya] is an over-equipped and over-armed country, but its weaponry has disappeared and fallen into the hands of goodness knows whom, in the population and in armed groups," he said.
"There is verified and confirmed intelligence that weapons are in the hands of the terrorists, in large quantities and of high quality."
Ould Abdel Aziz was pleased on the other hand that his policy of pardoning radical Islamists who repented had borne fruit. Of 39 prisoners who were pardoned, only one had taken up arms anew, he said.