Having been largely quiet on the kidnappings of two Spaniards and the killing of three Mauritanians in Trarza last week, here are some vague and general thoughts. The kidnapping and the murders would appear to fit the general AQIM pattern of banditry and criminality one observes from its activities in Mauritania over the last two years. The kidnappers have demanded monies, not concrete political demands. This is to say that the act itself is political enough, coming from whom it does, and that the object of the operation is accomplished by the image it presents to outsiders (and local governments) and, more importantly, by success in securing a ransom from western governments — or failure in that pursuit and then setting off with the hostages’ heads. The primary objective is to make a statement of strength and, flowing from that, to procure the necessary funds to continue and enhance the group’s activities. Questions as to whether there is government involvement are warranted, though one might be considered a conspiracy theorist for linking central governments to directly to the kidnapping. It more likely that local government officials were complicit either by negligence or conspiracy in allowing (rather than making) the event happen. At the same time, one must also put the fact that in the last several months so many terroristic events have taken place in Mauritania in context of those who rule that country, and additionally with how few resources they do so.
There is the issue of incompetence, negligence and an eagerness to use the terrorist problem, which is in general marginal — though still important — as a political tool to demonstrate the supposed indispensability of those in power. These are all interrelated and could be seen in the character of the Ould Abdel Aziz government from a few months after it seized power. One now sees that there are more attacks since a man who claimed his right to rule partly on the basis that he was prepared to fight terrorism. If he has not calculated some element of this for his own advantage, the procurement of western aid especially, Mauritania is headed for more minor disturbances because its leaders have not the faculties to address the problem. Corruption on the frontiers, where much militant activity is organized, enables terrorism. Ould Abdel Aziz has himself as an enemy of corruption, but one sees only symbolic measures in that field. Indeed, symbolism without actual reform or enduring solutions is his style of rule, as per the dismissal of the chief of police last week. This was not unlike the highly symbolic but generally meaningly Ould Nagi case (which will have its own post soon enough) — it makes a statement but resolves very little. So there are many statements being made and many monetary prizes being sought. What about ideology?
AQIM’s theology and political ideology surely what animates its cause, but that ideology is enabled by poverty and by an existing infrastructure of corruption broadening its appeal beyond men whose first interest is the affirmation of stringent religious philosophy and its establishment in government. This makes it quite possible for the organization to draw on perfectly secular criminal networks, new and old. The downed 727 two weeks was involved in what some see as an intersection of the drug trade and the AQIM network. Whatever the validity of that view, the organization continues to operate like a gang, recruiting fellow travelers and riffraff. This has been observed on this blog before, and by others too. More extensive and (hopefully) more insightful comments will follow.