Unfortunately, the limited conversation ongoing in the West about AQIM is still uninformed by the realities of that group’s penetration in Mauritania; the analysis that is currently available focuses on the geopolitical and kinetic aspects of confronting the group. Little is said or shared about the alarming rise of Mauritanian youth being radicalized, indoctrinated and ultimately converted into militant Jihadis. For instance, no one has commented yet on the identity of the Mauritanian AQIM fighter who was killed during last week’s Franco-Mauritanian raid in Mali.
Abdelkader Ould Ahmednah, identified by the Mauritanian authorities as the Mauritanian of the group, challenges many assumptions about the spread of Jihadi ideology in Mauritanian society.
- Abdelkader Ould Ahmednah is one of three siblings who were recruited by AQIM. Two of his siblings are under arrest right now for alleged involvement in the killing of American citizen Christopher Leggett. in fact, they were the ones who identified him to Mauritanian security officials who brought photos of the dead gunmen to them in order to glean some fresh intel about AQIM fighters.
-Abdelkader Ould Ahmednah was arrested in 2006, and was sitting in prison until he was released in the amnesty declared by former President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi in 2007. obviously, that was short-sighted decision: no one seems to have thought of the consequences of allowing such a hardened radical back into the nature.
-Judging by the failure of the so-called de-radicalization effort setup in late 2009 by General Aziz in partnership with Mauritania’s Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi spiritual leader, the problem at hand is not merely that we are dealing with some misguided youth who incidentally picked up the wrong brand of Islam.
More importantly than the above points:
-Abdelkader Ould Ahmednah is the son of a very wealthy businessman who hails from the Smasside tribe. This is former President Maaouyia Ould Taya’s tribe. The Smasside came to ABSOLUTELY dominate the Mauritanian economy under Taya’s rule in the 90’s through family-based cartels that were given a monopoly over fisheries, export and import, and representation of foreign commercial institution. As such, Ould Ahmednah had a guarenteed path to become, like many of his young tribesmen, a wealthy prosperous businessman. He chose otherwise.
You see where I am going? Ould Ahmednah and his siblings, are part of the country’s privileged elite. They were not driven into violent Jihadism by poverty. If anything, they were seduced by this ideology because Mauritania’s crumbling educational system fed them a belief that Islam is the core of their societies and that they are citizens of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
Yet, they cannot reconcile that ideal with the realities of a society crumbling before their eyes. The next simplistic leap of faith for them is that if society is straying, then it must be that it needs to return to its core values as those have been abandoned somewhere between the glorious mythical past of the Islamic Ummah they were taught, and modern day Mauritania.
As a Mauritanian by birth, I am haunted by my society’s inability to reconcile itself with its own past and identity. I feel that as long as Mauritania’s national narrative emphasizes Islam-a vague Islam at that- as the center of our national identity, we will be creating more Ould Ahmednahs. All it would take for someone (as the Muslim Brotherhood is doing right now) is to claim the mantle of Islam to disguise any ideological message to recruit a generation adrift and in search for bearings.
This is not at all a dismissal of Mauritania’s failed governance and in that respect, I am NOT optimistic. The responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of Mauritania’s elites who spend their time squabbling over political power without ever feeling the need to redefine their society and face its demons, ancient, and modern.
More later when I have more time to write..