According to the interior ministry on Monday, four jihadists have escaped from prison in Mauritania after a shootout left two national guards dead. This is an unusual occurrence in a country that has been spared the Sahel insurgency.
Two additional guards were lightly hurt in the assault, which happened on Sunday night in the capital, it claimed.
During an assault on the guards that resulted in an exchange of gunfire, four terrorists were able to escape from Nouakchott’s central jail, according to a statement from the ministry to the official news agency.
The National Guard stepped up security at the facility and got to work locating the fugitives.
The identity of the convicts who escaped were kept secret.
Two of the convicts, according to a military officer, had received death sentences, while the others were still in the process of being tried for participation in a terrorist organization.
The official, who wished to remain unnamed, claimed that their car had been discovered in Nouakchott‘s northeastern region.
Since 1987, Mauritania has not used the death penalty.
The roads surrounding the prison had been cleared on Monday morning after being blocked off the previous evening.
An AFP correspondent observed that the neighborhood had calmed down and that there had been no visible police reinforcement.
Despite sharing a border with Mali, where an insurgency that started in 2012 and has now expanded throughout the area, and having a population of 4.5 million, Mauritania has been spared terrorist strikes since 2011.
The lack of strikes has fueled theories that Nouakchott and the jihadists have a covert non-aggression pact.
Attempts at reconciliation between the organisation and the Mauritanian government were noted in documents that US claimed to have discovered in the Pakistani stockpile where former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011.
This is denied by the government.
Mauritania was frequently the subject of attacks and kidnappings in the 2000s.
Islamist organizations grew in Algeria, a neighbor to the north, and Mauritania started to experience attacks in 2005.
General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, a former chief of presidential security, assumed leadership in 2008 and was later elected president.
Western nations put aside any concerns they may have had about his ascent.
Conflict of ideas
The perception was that “the Islamist threat could expand to Mauritania” given the proportion of Mauritanians in newly formed rebel groups in northern Mali, a French specialist told AFP in 2020.
Abdel Aziz, who resigned in 2019, is currently facing charges of abuse of office, buying and selling influence, money laundering, and unlawful enrichment.
France and the United States dispatched instructors to help anti-terrorist troops and bolster Mauritanian intelligence under his rule.
The Mauritanians made a commitment to developing and keeping their recruits. Spending on the military rose, improving the equipment, pay, and living conditions for soldiers.
Moreover, the border has received strict enforcement, in contrast to other Sahel countries where porous borders are a well-known weak spot.
A mental warfare campaign was also started in Nouakchott to dissuade impressionable youth from enlisting with the Islamists.
Almost 50 of the 70 convicted terrorists who participated in a discourse with eminent Muslim academics in 2010 expressed their repentance.
After graduating from Islamic schools, young people were given the opportunity to receive vocational training, which resulted in the recruitment of more than 500 imams.
Authorities also took the lead in establishing new settlements in the arid region in an effort to boost economic activity.
The jihadists have possibilities in other Sahel nations because of poverty and the absence of a functioning government.