Country Report on Terrorism 2017 - Chapter 1 - Mauritania

Overview: Mauritania was an excellent U.S. security and regional counterterrorism partner in 2017. Since 2011, when U.S. engagement with Mauritanian security forces greatly increased and Mauritanian forces defeated al-Qa’ida elements in three separate battles, Mauritania has not suffered a terrorist attack, despite continuing terrorist violence in neighboring Mali.

The Government of Mauritania continued to oppose terrorism effectively, building on an approach that hinges on community outreach, improving the capacity of security forces, and securing the country’s borders. The government has continued its counterterrorism cooperation with the United States and seized opportunities to participate in U.S.-sponsored training on counterterrorism tactics and techniques.

Mauritania Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Services worked with the United States to track, monitor, and counter terrorist groups, which include al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), ISIS, and Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) – the group that formed after the Sahara Branch of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Murabitoun, Ansar al-Dine, and the Macina Liberation Front came together in 2017.

Through the support of the United States and other partners such as France, Mauritania deployed 20,000 soldiers, divided between seven military regions around the country. Despite these efforts, regions in the interior of Mauritania remained imperfectly monitored, owing to their geographic isolation from population centers and inhospitable desert conditions. AQIM elements and like-minded terrorist groups were present in the region, particularly along the southeastern border with Mali, which remained the leading terrorist threat to Mauritania in 2017.

On November 6, Mauritanian press reported that AQIM released a new video in which it warned Mauritania of consequences for its cooperation with the so-called “crusaders’ forces.”

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Border security remained inadequate due to a standing policy that accords responsibility for different sections of the country’s land borders to different formations of the security forces. Owing to their geographic isolation from population centers, hard-to-access areas of the Sahara Desert further complicated efforts to monitor and secure borders.

On November 12, Mauritania declared its border with Algeria a military “Red Zone,” forbidden to civilians. This decision was motivated by the increased and diverse trafficking of prohibited goods through this region.

In collaboration with Mauritanian authorities, the Senegalese security forces arrested two suspected Algerian terrorists from ISIS on October 6 at the Mauritanian border crossing of Rosso. The two suspects were wanted by the Government of Algeria.

The Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program, in cooperation with host nation partner forces, provided training for 160 police officers and gendarmerie in topics including facilities protection, border security, interviewing terrorist suspects, crisis incident management, weapons of mass destruction, and border security and interdiction.

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. In 2017, Mauritania applied for membership within the Egmont Group. There were no other significant changes since 2016. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): The Mauritanian government continued to support CVE programs and offer alternatives to at-risk individuals. During 2017, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Traditional Education (MIATE) hosted a two-day regional workshop in Nouakchott to share the Mauritanian CVE experiences with representatives from the Maghreb countries and the G-5 Sahel countries. The workshop was organized in cooperation with the American Friendship Project.

The MIATE collaborated with independent Islamic religious groups to counter radicalization to violence in a series of workshops in all 15 provinces. The MIATE organized an international conference on “Violence and Extremism from Sharia’s Perspective,” held on March 19, 2017.

In coordination with two University of Nouakchott professors, a think tank, and some society leaders, the U.S. Embassy organized a two-day awareness training workshop for university students on violent extremism, how to recognize possible recruitment activities, and strategies to counter them.

The southern Mauritanian city of Kiffa is a member of the Strong Cities Network.

Mauritanian political and religious personalities periodically condemned ISIS’s aims, methods, and activities in public statements.

International and Regional Cooperation: Nouakchott serves as host to the headquarters of the G-5 Sahel, which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. Mauritania will be responsible for the western sector of the G-5 Sahel Joint Force located along the border between Mauritania and Mali.

Under the auspices of the G-5 Sahel, Mauritania, the European Union, and the German Agency of International Cooperation, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime organized a meeting of experts on mechanisms and standards for information exchange within the Security Cooperation Platform of the G-5 Sahel in Nouakchott on October 24-25, 2017.