Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Mauritania becomes 'meeting ground' for Azawad fighters

There have been several, albeit mostly vague, reports and local chatter about how Mauritania is becoming a meeting place for most of the increasing number of groups and factions contesting the future of the Azawad region of Mali.

In addition to the almost 100,000 refugees from Mali still in Mauritania (see below), representatives of Tuareg and Arab communities and groups from Azawad, representatives and members of many of the terrorist/Islamist organisations and Azawadian political movements, as well as politically influential Malians, are using Mauritania as a safe haven in which to meet and discuss their strategies for the future of both Azawad and Mali as a whole.

For the moment, this situation has not yet threatened instability in Mauritania. But it certainly has the potential to do so, not simply because of the distinct possibility of renewed fighting or at least skirmishing between these many groups, but also because there are signs that many of the Islamists that have been driven out of Mali by the Franco-Chadian forces may seek a new haven in Mauritania.

This is a threat faced by many other countries in the region, notably Niger, Burkina Faso and Libya, but it is probably greatest in Mauritania because of its many sympathetic Salafist strands and the links that Mauritania already has with these Islamists groups (notably AQIM and MUJAO).

Two names which have been mentioned within some concern within this context are Henoune Ould Ali and Amar Ould Hamaha. Ould Ali, from a small Arab tribe linked to the Berabich, is a wealthy trader believed to be a significant financier of MUJAO. Ould Hamaha, generally known as “Red Beard” in the Malian press, was prominent in both AQIM and MUJAO, and believed to be responsible for many of the atrocities committed by the Islamists in Timbuktu before creating Ansar Shari'a.

For more news and expert analysis about Mauritania, please see Mauritania Politics & Security.

© 2013 Menas Associates

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