Training camps in Mauritania train foreign recruits for ISIS, al-Qaeda

TerrorismTraining camps in Mauritania train foreign recruits for ISIS, al-Qaeda

Published 26 March 2015

Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) could be working together at al-Qaeda-run training camps in the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, where at least eighty recruits from the United States, Canada, and Europe are being indoctrinated into radical jihad and training for attacks that could reach as far as the West. Mauritania’s roughly three million people are concentrated on the coast, around the capital of Nouakchott, while the rest of the vast country is a sparsely inhabited arid desert. This is where the al-Qaeda training camps are based.

Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) could be working together at al-Qaeda-run training camps in the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, where at least eighty recruits from the United States, Canada, and Europe are being indoctrinated into radical jihad and training for attacks that could reach as far as the West. “The situation in Mauritania is a powder keg very few people are talking about,” said Veryan Khan, editorial director for the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC), which had a source on the ground in Mauritania who visited the camps and obtained documentation.

Mauritania’s roughly three million people are concentrated on the coast, around the capital of Nouakchott, while the rest of the vast country is arid desert and sparsely inhabited. This is where the al-Qaeda training camps are based. “This is not a travel destination,” Khan said. “The only reason to be there from a Western country is to train for terrorism.”

Videos and photos of the camps obtained by TRAC show signs in English, providing some evidence of Westerns’ presence. “The fear of returning foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq is high, but Mauritania-trained fighters are not even on anyone’s radar,” said Khan. Besides the two main al-Qaeda camps, Mauritania has about 1,000 madrassas, most of which face little or no government monitoring, creating opportunities for these institutions to be used as propaganda and training centers, Khan said.

The al-Qaeda training camps received a boost with the release of five terrorists formerly imprisoned in the Nouakchott Central Prison until a 24 January prison riot in which two guards were taken hostage. “The situation was resolved following negotiations with the public prosecutor and Chief of the National Guards,” Khan said. “The detainees were released on Feb. 23 and are free to pursue their jihadist activities.” Freed were al-Qaeda official, El Khadim Ould Seman, and his four associates who were members of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, a group’s whose core membership became Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Fox News reports that other jihadists who trained in the Mauritanian camps include Canadians Kristos Katsiroubas and Ali Medlej of London, Ontario, who were accused of participating with three-dozen armed Islamists in the 16 January 2013 al-Qaeda-linked attack on a gas plant in Algeria, where they were both killed along with fellow attackers. Marcus Dwayne Robertson, also known as Imam Abu Taubah, used his Florida-based Fundamental Islamic Knowledge Seminary to send recruits to Mauritania before he was imprisoned in Florida on a weapons charge.

On 15 October 2014, the Algerian military arrested Safieddine al-Mauritani, a Mauritanian member of the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, which operates in the Jebel Chaambi border region of Algeria and Tunisia, and had “pledged allegiance” to ISIS earlier in 2014. Algerian security forces report that al-Mauritani and another member of his group were traveling to Mail in a vehicle loaded with arms and a considerable amount of cash to execute attacks.

“The Safieddine al-Mauritani arrest means that the traditional supply routes used by the cornucopia of jihadist terrorist groups in North Africa is now also being utilized by the Islamic State to catalyze their expansion on the African continent,” Khan concluded. In December 2014, Mauritanian security forces arrested four ISIS terror suspects in Zouérate, the largest town in northern Mauritania, who claimed ISIS was “on its way” to Mauritania.

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