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.

 

Syria nearly completes surrendering chemical weapons

Netanyahu: Unity with Hamas ‘giant leap backward’ for peace

Kuwait MPs seek to question PM over alleged corruption

UK reaches out to Muslim women to prevent Syria jihad ‘tragedies’

Cleaner power starts being generated in southwestern Morocco

Thirteen killed in Iraq car bomb attack

Yemen Qaeda militants seize hospitals to treat wounded

Second-ranking US diplomat warns of rising extremism in Libya

Algeria blogger who ‘mocked’ Bouteflika goes free on bail

Syria army launches deadly air raid on market area in Aleppo

Armenia leader accuses Ankara of 'utter denial' on genocide

Mauritanian president will stand for re-election

Washington easing aid freeze to Cairo

France, US mull sanctions against South Sudan

Israel weighs response to Palestinian unity deal

South Sudan leader sacks army chief

Jordan amends anti-terror law to curb Jihadist threat

Netayahu to Abbas: Does you want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel?

Bahrain expels representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

Witnesses in Morsi trial: Hamas and Hezbollah attacked Egypt prisons

Family of detained Al-Jazeera reporter in Egypt call for his release

Bomb targets convoy of Education Minister in north Iraq

After Ervin scandal, Iran Prisons Chief becomes Head of Justice Department

Egypt FM travels to US as Washington relaxes hold on military aid

No Qatar ‘concessions’ on end of dispute with fellow Gulf states

US diplomat visits Libya amid political upheaval

Blair calls on West to combat ‘growing’ danger of Islamist extremism

Jarba asks Saudi Arabia to increase support for Syria rebels

Better late than never: Erdogan offers condolences over mass WWI killings of Armenians

Hezbollah veto dashes Geagea dreams of presidency

UN aid chiefs make impassionate call for Syria access

Police brigadier general killed in Cairo bomb attack

11 new MERS infections registered in Saudi

EU denounces Syria plans for June 3 election

Iran envoy row fails to make headway at UN

Amnesty: Qatar fails to protect domestic workers

US will deliver 10 Apache choppers to Egypt to counter terrorism

US expresses horror at South Sudan violence

Egypt's next president will have to deal with frustrated workers

Rival Palestinian leaders agree on national unity govt

Jumblatt backs lawmaker Henri Helou for Lebanon presidency

Global chemical watchdog: Syria weapons handover at 86.5 percent

Kerry ‘prefers’ Cold War-like situation to current complex challenges

Israel to call up Christian Arabs for military service

Egypt prosecutors submit new evidence in Jazeera trial