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.

 

Vote or boycott: Grim record of self-serving politicians puts off voters in Tunisia

For Sudan President: Promises are something and re-election is something else

Egypt universities tighten security to avoid new Islamist violence

Rise of Shiite militias challenges government authority in Iraq

Protests over IS turn Istanbul University into war zone

Turkey eyes stricter punishment against lawbreakers at protests

Iran returns Abadi to ‘house of obedience’

From traditional military to counterinsurgency force: Syria army grows more capable

South Sudan rivals accept 'responsibility' for civil war

British drones in Iraq also used for Syria surveillance

Turkey launches new wave of wire-tapping arrests

Syria Kurds show impressive resistance to ‘Islamic State’ in Kobane

Iran forces inside Iraq as Abadi rules out foreign ground intervention!

South Sudan rivals meet in new bid to end civil war

From Morocco into Spain: Crowd of African migrants charges to border fence

Deadly suicide attack targets Shiite mosque in central Baghdad

Turkey gives Iraq Peshmerga forces passage to Kobane

Israel to supply Egypt with natural gas despite sabotage

Kerry seeks help of Southeast Asia in anti-Islamic State push

Qaeda inflicts heavy losses on Huthi rebels in central Yemen

US carries out first weapon airdrops to Kurd fighters near Kobane

Benghazi violence kills 75 people in five days

Morocco accuses Algeria of firing on civilians across border

Australia finalises deal for deployment of Special Forces to Iraq

Tunisia calls on Libya authorities to locate missing journalists

Turkey rejects calls to arm ‘terrorist’ Kurdish party in Syria

Western powers threaten sanctions against hostile actors in Libya

New deadly terrorist attack targets Egypt army in Sinai

‘Islamic State’ suffers heavy losses in Syria battleground of Kobane

After full formation of Iraq government, time comes to visit Iran

UN appeals for four-day truce in Western Libya

Gaza tunnel collapses before demolition: At least 3 Egypt soldiers dead

Erdogan begins one-day visit to Afghanistan

After weeks of delay, Iraq gets new security ministers

Diplomats scold Turkey over ambiguous relation with Islamic State

Lebanon pleads for Iran military aid to fight Islamic State

Kurds repulse new jihadist attempt to cut off Syria town

Huthi rebels meet fierce resistance in Yemen Sunni areas

Former Iraqi pilots train IS to fly Syria fighter jets

Two Millstones Drowning America into Premature Oblivion

Iraqi forces launch anti-IS operation north of Tikrit

Ben Ali cohorts planning comeback in Tunisia polls

Battle for Libya's Benghazi heats up

Kurdish fighters still holding out in Syria's Kobane

Russia denies agreed with US on IS intelligence-sharing