he Nouakchott Supreme Court on Sunday (June 19th) convicted and sentenced eight people for aiding and supporting al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The prison terms ranged from five years for two Salafists – Ahmed Sale ould Hassan and Ely Cheikh Ould Wadiaa – to three years for Hassan Ould Maata and two years for the remaining five defendants: Mauritanians Bah Ould Mohamed, Moustapha Ould Ahmed, Issa Ould Ahmed, Abdellahi Ould Hamadi and Tunisian national Malek Lekrimi.
"They supplied the chief fighter of the Battalion of the Masked with communication devices, quantities of explosives and a SA-7 missile, an act which is punishable under the Mauritanian anti-terrorism law," the court said.
The prosecutor told the court that "some of them helped Abul Abbas, a.k.a. 'Balor', who is the leader of the Battalion of the Masked that is based in the desert, by providing logistical tools that helped him launch attacks against the Sahel countries' armies and kidnap and kill European and US nationals, and blow up European and US diplomatic headquarters."
Abdellahi Ould Hamadi was using an alias (Abul Hammam) and received 3,000 euros from a collaborator of Balor's in exchange for supplying him with communication devices and phones, according to prosecutor Ahmed Ould Abdellahi.
"The defendant was receiving instructions from Sidi Ould Sidna who was convicted in the killing of French nationals in the city of Aleg, Mauritania, in December 2007," the prosecutor added. "He was also in touch with the terrorists who took part in the Tourine operation that was carried out by al-Qaeda against the Mauritanian army in September 2008."
Defendant Abdellahi Ould Hamadi confessed to the charges against him saying that "it's very normal to see an arms shipment or smuggled contraband where we live in the desert."
"I received an amount of 25 million ouguiyas from Balor to hand it to some collaborators with AQIM. However, I was arrested by the Mauritanian security forces at a time when I was planning to surrender and report al-Qaeda," Ould Hamadi said.
As to the importance of the trial, Rabii Ould Idoumou, a journalist specialising in terrorism, said that "these elements don't have dangerous files because they were not involved in direct murders or kidnappings. Therefore, it's almost like a trial of individuals rather than an organised network, because they had no ties or joint co-ordination."
Analyst Yacoub Moustapha said the sentence was a message to "the many people who have commercial dealings with al-Qaeda, to the effect that they won't be secure from prison".
Young activist Mohamed Ould Zeine noted that the trial had taken just one hearing. "This leaves an impression among observers about the danger of these groups; something that some people may see as an incentive to pass the sentences against them," he added.
"I believe that charges made against those young people are not very serious as long as the prison terms are that short," university professor Mohamed Kanté said. "However, I think that selling arms to al-Qaeda is not at all different from killing because those who help in killings, even with a single word, are like perpetrators."
Commenting on the terrorists, university student Sidi Elmokhtar Ould Sidi said, "Their act is considered treason in this country, and the trial will certainly serve as a deterrent."