Nouakchott — Rumours of an impending al-Qaeda attack have Nouakchott residents on edge.
For about a week now, Nouakchott has witnessed intensive security reinforcements at main streets and near embassies, ministries and public departments.
A number of armed soldiers were mobilised at the southern and south-eastern border near the areas where armed terrorist groups operate in northern Mali.
Mauritanian police, security and gendarme forces have also stepped up their night patrols in Nouakchott at road intersections and public markets using trained dogs, checking the identity of passengers and inspecting cars.
Although there has been no official explanation for the stepped-up security, Essirage.net reported October 9th that the alert was due to "the likelihood of al-Qaeda militants on Mauritanian soil".
The paper reported that Mauritanian security services had information that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was determined to carry out a terrorist strike inside the country, prompting the armed forces to implement a plan to prevent the attacks.
Journalist Bechir Ould Babana told Magharebia that the heightened security could be due to a threat from AQIM issued several weeks ago in the wake of attacks on foreign embassies in the region.
"That statement wasn't restricted to threats only, but also included incitements for extremist young people and silent terrorist cells in the Maghreb to move and target the Western interests in their countries," Ould Babana added. "This of course raises fears for the security agencies in those countries. The Mauritanian state has many experiences in thwarting terrorists' attempts to target Western and government interests in Nouakchott and other cities."
For his part, al-Moukhtar al-Salem, an analyst and expert on terrorism, said he did not "rule out that this security deployment is only a precautionary measure in the atmosphere of preparing for military intervention in northern Mali".
He added that by his own reading of the current condition of terrorist groups in northern Mali shows that they are now on the defensive.
"For the time being, the terrorist groups are avoiding any blackmail of regional countries lest this should be a justification for any country to militarily intervene and a prelude for a military confrontation with these groups," al-Salem noted.
"However, this doesn't mean that the terrorist groups fear a military operation; rather, it's only an attempt to avoid a military confrontation," he concluded. "They have even expressly said that they are prepared to enter into dialogue with any entity."
According to al-Akhbar, Oumar Ould Hamaha, a terror leader with the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in northern Mali, recently said in an interview with the local Nita radio station that his group in Azawad was prepared to talk with anyone.
However, he said that a dialogue with the Malian government would take place on condition that it is done with Mali's Higher Islamic Council, adding his group's rejection of holding negotiations with any other entity representing the government.