Nouakchott — With the appointment of a young new terror leader in the Sahara, al-Qaeda is attempting to lure in Mauritanian youths, experts warn.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) appointed a young Mauritanian as the emir of its Al Vourghan brigade last week.
Mohamed Lemine Ould Hacen replaces Algerian national Yahya Abou El Hammam (real name Jemal Oukacha), who was recently promoted to Sahara emir. El Hammam is known as one of the bloodiest and most radical terrorist leaders.
"Ould Hacen is the first Mauritanian to command a unit or brigade of al-Qaeda in the region, al-Akhbar reported about the November 22nd appointment.
"Mauritanians in the organisation used to be in charge of religious affairs, media and other matters without leading battalions or squadrons," al-Akhbar noted.
The new katibat chief will also reportedly serve as spokesman for the southern region of al-Qaeda, covering northern Mali and the desert areas bordering Mali, Mauritania and Algeria.
Ould Hacen, also known as Abdallah al-Chinguetti, hails from the village of Frewa in the Trarza region, according to ANI. He is considered one of the scholars and theoreticians of the terror network.
The news agency added that the Timbuktu-based Al Vourghan brigade was the unit of al-Qaeda with the most frequent contact with the Mauritanian army. The repeated clashes stem from the terror group's position straddling the Mauritania-Mali border, as well the fact it has the largest number of Mauritanians in the al-Qaeda network, according to ANI.
Hamadi Ould Dah, a terrorism analyst, said that the appointment of a Mauritanian carries several meanings, the most important of which is that "al-Qaeda is trying to implicate some young recruits in their ranks, especially after the horrendous acts carried out against the population in the occupied territory of Azawad".
"Another intention is to embarrass the Mauritanian army by pushing it to fight a war against a squadron headed by a young Mauritanian stationed on the border. It will look like people from the same nation are fighting each other," Ould Dah said.
"In addition, this is a desperate attempt to win over the tribes living along the Mauritanian border with Mali."
The Mauritanian will break "stereotypes within al-Qaeda and among terrorists of Algerian origin who have tended to monopolise leadership and leave the making of fatwas for Mauritanians", journalist Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Cheikh told Magharebia.
"It is also an attempt to retain young Mauritanians and dissuade them from leaving to join other groups such as Tawhid and Jihad [MUJAO], a splinter of group of al-Qaeda led by the Mauritanian Hamada Ould Khairi," Ould Cheikh added.
"Mauritanians have a sense of injustice that made them leave the parent organization and create a framework of their own,'" he said."Only a few of them remained within Al Vourghan squadron."
The appointment "is an attempt by al-Qaeda to create a balance between different nationalities...and a response to disgruntled youth who have been excluded from the terrorist organisation", journalist Rajel Ould Oumar said.
According to Sahara Media, the new emir of the Al Vourghan brigade was born in 1981 in Nouakchott. Ould Hacen graduated in 2006 from the Higher Institute of Islamic Studies and Research, where he submitted his thesis while jailed on charges of belonging to one of the jihadist groups during the transitional period and the rule of former Mauritanian President Ely Ould Mohamed Vall.
After roughly fourteen months of incarceration, he disappeared in 2006, only to resurface as the spokesman for AQIM's Sahara emirate.