First Published: 2013-01-22

 

Mauritanian news websites: Virtual mouthpiece for Sahel jihadists

 

Mauritanian spokesmen of jihadist groups keep close contact with journalists in their country, facilitated by Mauritania's freedom of press.

 

Middle East Online

By Hademine OULD SADI – NOUAKCHOTT

Close contact with media facilitated by Mauritania's freedom of press

Mauritanian news websites, the first to publish jihadist statements claiming a hostage attack in Algeria, death tolls and threats, have become a virtual mouthpiece for Islamist rebels in the Sahel.

Amid a vacuum of information as the staggering hostage siege played out over the weekend, it was the website of the Nouakchott news agency ANI and the Alakhbar and Sahara Media websites that provided a steady stream of statements from the jihadists.

A video of mastermind Mokhtar Belmokhtar claiming the deadly attack was the latest scoop for the sites, which for years have published ransom demand videos of Western hostages seized in the Sahel by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Similarly, during the nearly year-long occupation of northern Mali -- which like Algeria borders Mauritania -- AQIM and its allies Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) have used the sites as a conduit for information.

Threats to retaliate against France, which is waging an offensive to dislodge the Islamists from Mali's north, have also filtered through these sites boasting a vast network of informants and correspondents in the zone.

"It is not about an ideological relationship, but rather linguistic and geographical ties" between the Mauritanians and the groups spread throughout the vast Sahel desert, Nouakchott-based media specialist Isselmou Ould Salihi said.

Another link is the presence of Mauritanians playing strategic roles in AQIM katibas, or fighting units.

"The spokesmen of these groups are often Mauritanian, like Abdallah Chinguitty, spokesman for the Saharan emirate (the AQIM group in charge of the Sahel) or his predecessor Jouleibib, who has joined the Signatories of Blood," Salihi said.

The Signatories of Blood is the group created by Belmokhtar after he broke away from AQIM -- a Salafist group originating in Algeria which he helped set up -- and which staged the staggering attack on a remote desert gas plant in Algeria.

These Mauritanian spokesmen keep close contact with journalists in their country, facilitated by Mauritania's freedom of the press.

But this is not without consequences for the websites.

On Sunday ANI was summoned to appear before Mauritania's media watchdog, which demanded an "explanation" for its coverage of the attack in which hundreds of foreigners were held at the In Amenas gas plant.

The site published real-time reports from the Islamist fighters of the hostage death toll as a bid by the Algerian army to free them turned into a bloodbath, leaving at least 38 dead and sending shockwaves around the world.

Sahara Media was recently slapped with a warning for publishing a message from Belmokhtar urging young Mauritanians to join the Signatories of Blood.

One of Algeria's main newspapers, El Watan, dubbed ANI a "privileged channel for terrorist propaganda", accusing it of having "quasi-organic links with Islamist movements".

ANI hit back over an "unprecedented campaign of slander" against it in its efforts to cover an event in real time which had the international community "holding its breath".

ANI director Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Aboulmaali has stressed that the website has "refused to publish statements of kidnappers and hostages in sound form to avoid sinking into propaganda.

"The kidnappers offered to make the hostages speak, which we declined, respecting their feelings and that of their families," he wrote on the website.

 

US backs Saudi-led intervention in Yemen

Saudi-led coalition keeps up raids against Yemen rebels

Assad says open to dialogue with US

US lawmakers threaten Iran with new sanctions

Oil prices fall after Yemen-inspired gains

Turkish parliament passes security bill after long debate

Turkey army chief of staff visits historic tomb inside Syria

Heavy Saudi raids force Sanaa residents to flee

Israeli Arab MP walks for Bedouins

Gulf stocks regain ground after early losses over Yemen

Kerry presses Iran on nuclear deal before deadline

Somali pirates seize Iranian fishing vessel

Borse Dubai sells big stake in London Stock Exchange

Can Arabs form joint military force?

Libya rivals discuss UN-backed peace proposals

French President to join 'anti-terror' march in Tunis

Sisi underscores Egypt’s rights to tap Nile water

US-led coalition aircraft bomb Tikrit

Saudi warplanes strike Yemen rebels in Sanaa

Netanyahu to form Israel new government after shock victory

Turkey military responds to Kurdish attacks in southeast

Leaders see horror of air crash as investigators step up probe

Fistfight in Iraqi Kurdish parliament

Syria rebels seize ancient town of Busra Sham

UN reveals plethora of abuses against activists in Libya

IS attack kills 5 militia fighters in Libya city of Sirte

Yemen President ‘in safety’ as rebel forces advance

US considering launching air strikes on Tikrit

Yemen Huthis seizes key airbase near Aden

'Feminist' policy costing dear to Sweden

Obama says row with Netanyahu ‘substantive’

Tunisia honours victims of deadly attack on national museum

Roadside bomb kills two Egypt soldiers in restive Sinai

‘Islamic State’ woos Syria children with money: More than 400 recruited in 2015 alone

Huthi-led militia push on southern Yemen

US envoy to Libya leaves Twitter after barrage of online abuse

US provides 'eye in the sky' to support Iraq Tikrit operation

Turkey prosecutors launch probe as ruling party rift grows

German airliner crashes in southern France with 150 on board

Egypt sacks spokesman who said Shaima al-Sabbagh was too thin

At least 30 killed in central Yemen clashes

Tunisia national museum reopening delayed over security concerns

Kuwait riot police disperse small opposition protest

Netanyahu apologises to Arab Israeli voters

Libyan pro-got warplanes target weapons depot near Tripoli