A recent joint information mission along the Mali-Mauritania border aimed to raise residents’ awareness about the dangers of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Military personnel from Mauritania, Algeria, Mali and Niger toured various villages and communities near the Wagadou Forest, a hotbed of al-Qaeda activity.
The members of the « Liaison and Fusion Unit » (UFL) began the project in Bassiknou with a series of public talks, Liberté reported on February 2nd. The outreach aimed to counter the religious discourse of terrorist groups, raise the awareness of the population about the dangers of terrorism and warn against the tactics adopted by al-Qaeda aimed at influencing border region inhabitants.
Colonel Sidna Ould Sidi Heiba, commander of the Fifth Military Region in Bassiknou, addressing residents of the city, said that the army has come to realise the importance of using more than just military might to combat al-Qaeda.
« We hope to use all means to counter terrorism, particularly the media, which is – without a doubt – an effective way of addressing the population, because if people are unaware of the hazards of terrorists, our efforts will remain incomplete, » Ould Sidi Heiba said.
Speaking to Magharebia, the Imam of the Bassiknou mosque, Mohamed Ould-Tahir, who also took part in the lecture on the hazards of terrorism, said, « I appreciate the goal of this joint military mission that is seeking to raise our awareness on terrorism, a move that supports the duty I perform, in terms of guiding people and urging them to show tolerance toward others in my public sermons as an imam of a mosque, but al-Qaeda activists could be among those present in the mosque. »
Youth activist Mohamedna Ould Esseyed told Magharebia that the lectures were « crucial because they aimed at educating civil society in Bassiknou on playing a role in the fight against terrorism, in co-operation with the military and the security authorities ».
« As a youth activist in this community, I believe terrorism is a serious threat, » he added. « We must, however, develop an educational and development-based approach until it is completely eradicated across the region. »
Ould Esseyed went on to emphasise the need to end the isolation of the border areas, noting the nearest urban centre was four hours away in the city of Nema. « In the event of any terrorist attack, it is difficult for logistics to arrive in a timely manner, » he said.
« Isolation also causes prices to soar. Therefore, I call for laying down effective policies to combat poverty, through the establishment of projects for young people, because al-Qaeda takes advantage of the poor conditions along the borderline. They purchase camels for people and dig wells for them. As such, they were able to penetrate the social milieu, » the youth activist added.
Déh Ould Bellah, a civil society activist and head of the Students’ Parents Association in Bassiknou, told Magharebia that the military visit was the first of its kind. He said the mission, which included training for civil society groups, « will no doubt give impetus to the role played by activists in civil society in countering the threat of terrorism across the region, due to their closeness with the grassroots ».
By Jemal Oumar in Nouakchott