AQIM released a communique (text here) claiming to have killed “more than one hundred and ten apostates” in various recent attacks in Algeria and Mauritania. It consists most of a list (bullet points) of attacks and engagements involving its fighters in recents months and weeks, the vast majority of which took place in Algeria; one bullet point is devoted to activity in Mauritania.
The bullet point dealing with Mauritania/Mali describes AQIM’s version of events in Mali (at the Wagadou Forest) and at Bassiknou. It reads as a refutation of media and official accounts of the battles which may regarded as both significant routes by the Mauritanian (and Malian) armed forces and significant improvements in Mauritanian performance against AQIM since their major defeat at the hands of AQIM in September 2010. It describes the failed Bassiknou raid, led by Mauritanian Khaled al-Chinquitti (Khalid al-Shinqiti) (more on him here and below) only briefly. It dwells more on the battle at the Wagadou Forest, focusing on weapons and other materiel the group claims to have taken from its Mauritanian Army opponents (of which there was apparently either too much to carry because the supplies were so plentiful or because they faced heavy losses/shortages in terms of trucks). As might be expected it downplays AQIM’s losses in men and materiel (it makes no mention of air strikes or bombing from the Mauritanian Air Force) and leaves out details; it also includes no body counts for the Mauritanian side. It also makes no mention of the Malian Army. Its tone is triumphant though bitter and defensive lacks detail in contrast with previous communiqués following contact with the Mauritanian Army. It reads as a refutation of media and official reports on the engagements in Mali and Mauritania. Here is a short summary:
- AQIM launched a “provocative ambush of the Mauritanian Army which still continues launching foolishly its proxy war against the mujahideen on behalf of France, and upon the arrival of a convoy of seventeen Mauritanian military vehicles it attacked the mujahideen and a fierce battle was raged in the Wagadou Forest in northern Mali” where the communique claims “the killing of at least twenty soldiers, the destruction and burning of twelve machines, the flight of the five remaining machines, and the mujahideen have been able to shepherd (capture) some light weapons from the enemy (seven guns) while burning the rest of the machines and heavy weapons, not being able to carry them; the mujahideen lost two [men] in this battle, not yet knowing the fate of these two mujahids; as for what is promoted by the Mauritanian Army of having killed fifteen mujahideen this is nonsense, a lie typical of them.”
Other accounts. On the Wagadou and Bassiknou fighting four reports from Sahara Media and CRIDEM reflect the Mauritanian media and official versions of the clashes, both published last week. One includes pictures of the materiel collected by the Mauritanians following the fighting at the Wagadou Forest. Another describes how the Wagadou Forest site was used by AQIM before and during the confrontation with the Mauritanian Army (how the men cut paths, set up defensive positions and surprise defense systems using landmines and remotely detonated bombs (using cell phones); how Mauritanian and Malian soldiers combed parts of the forest before the attack, how they were ambushed, incidences of friendly fire, etc.; it uses sources “close to AQIM”, from the military and civilian witnesses accounts.). The other two are run downs of the brief fighting at Bassiknou. (Also worth noting: General Carter Ham, head of US AFRICOM visited Nouakchott today and met with president Ould Abdel Aziz and praised Mauritania’s recent performance against AQIM and, as the Mauritanian papers widely reported, said the US was not planning to open a military base in Mauritania)
Khaled al-Chinguitti. On Khaled al-Chinguitti (b. Elmaymoune Ould Isselmou Ould Meinouh, 1986), it is interesting to note that he comes from a family from Taganit (with a large number of other AQIM militants) which has had another young man (around the same age as Khaled al-Chinguitti) recruited into AQIM and other men from the same generation who is heavily involved in the youth Islamist movement. He lost many close relatives as a young man in the 1994 Air Mauritanie crash which contributed to his alienation from relatives along with several younger sisters and two younger brothers. He comes from a respected tribe (Kounta, Sidi el Wafi clan; strong links to the Azaouad region going back to the eighteenth/nineteenth century via Sheikh Sidi Elmokhar ElKounty who headed the Qadiri order there) and his parents were state employees, generally described as middle class, who passed away while he was young and he was raised by relatives. He was named after an uncle who was a naturalized Saudi citizen (after being expelled for resisting French rule). As a boy he was known as being somewhat reserved but having “natural” leadership qualities and a brilliant student; he was introduced to the religious movement in high school (he took his bac in maths and was interested in computer science and a brother-in-law mentored him in the subject) and continued to move within its networks at university in Nouakchott (where he was apparently radicalized after being denied a scholarship to study overseas) where he was recruited into the groups of young men heading to the camps in the desert in the early 2000s; he vanished altogether in 2007, sending his relatives a letter (which was not in his handwriting) saying he did not plan to return. As this went on his parents and close relatives to exception to his increasing religiosity at a time when Salafi and other forms of religious revivalism were regarded as socially abnormal in Mauritania. Certainly this is a person to keep in mind.