The three men sentenced to death for the Aleg killings were all operatives; of the three, Mohamed Ould Chabarnou is the most ideologically inclined from an intellectual perspective. Mohamed Ould Lemine al-Majlissi, who was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine, however, is of greater significance. Recall that Sidi Ould Sidina regarded al-Majlissi as a do-nothing (one of the qa’idoun, the sitters; i.e., a lot of talk and no action) and that al-Majlissi saw Ould Sidina as being “unbalanced” (al-Majlissi has tried to separate himself from physical acts of violence, though he does condone it against apostates and non-Muslims). Al-Majlissi nevertheless admitted to acting as a preacher and recruiter for AQIM in Mauritania. He traveled through the country-side, convincing young men to travel to the AQIM camps in northern Mali and on to Iraq. He never trained in the camps or picked up arms himself, though he did cooperate and organize with the organization (he was charged as an accomplice). His short sentence owes to his shrewd methodology.
The three sentenced to death will appeal the court’s decision. They claim they were tortured and while they plead not guilty they admitted to be waging jihad against foreigners and apostates (see this video). Others tried last week registered similar concerns. That leaders in the Salafist movement have also raised these grievances has embarrassed the regime and irritated foreign governments; the government has tried to leverage the religious movement over the last year, using it as an ally against traditional opposition groups it has excluded from government (the government being that of Mohamed “I will not form a unity government” Ould Abdel Aziz). The trials have the potential to harm the deepening relationship between the leadership of the Islamist tendency and the regime by alienating the movement’s grass roots who were in eager attendance at this week’s proceedings.
The Salafist subculture is regarded with suspicion by most Mauritanians. It has grown in recent years but remains marginal. A large part of this sub-culture (one might even call it a counter-culture) was present at this week and last week’s trials often cheering on the defendants. One could observe Moorish and black Africans in the crowds, though Moors predominated. The Salafist and Ikhwani tendencies (which while both Islamist are distinct and often at odds with one another) have both traditionally relied on Moorish followings. The Ikhwani end (represented in Tawassoul) has tended to be especially Moorish and relatively reliant on its leader’s tribal followings. The Salafists have had somewhat more success with the black African population but not by much. Both are reliant on social networks that a primarily Arab, some of which have carried over from the old Baʿthist movement (more on that later). The newer generation of its leadership has formed separate networks among young people (at home and abroad). Both cliques are small, well organized, politically ambitious and have much potential for expansion.
Still more to come…