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Al Qaeda Increases Pressure on Mauritania

6:29 PM, Sep 22, 2008 • By ROGER KAPLAN
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Justifying their coup against an elected president last month, Mauritania's top generals underscored not only what they claimed was creeping corruption and blatant incompetence but a soft approach to the al Qaeda franchise in North Africa, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [west]. One hundred percent Muslim, Mauritania is, more so than the other North African countries where AQIM's presence and terrorist activities have been on the rise, an example of why bin-Ladenism and its offshoots represent a threat to Muslim countries as much as to the West, if not more so. After all, Algeria and Morocco, for example, are Mediterranean nations whose economies are intertwined with Europe's (and ours). By contrast Mauritania is still comparatively isolated.

At best, the jihadists can justify war against Mauritania because it has diplomatic relations with Israel and receives U.S. help as part of the Trans-Sahara Counter-terrorism program. The simpler explanation is that the terrorists are seeking to destabilize regimes throughout the region and they think ambushing platoons of young recruits and leaving them on desert roads with their throats slit, as they are reported to have done on two occasions in the past fortnight, will advance this goal.