These three stories sit together somewhat uncomfortably for the Mauritanian putsch:First, a source revealed details to al Akhbar News Agency of a massive drugs bust [ar] which captured a lorry containing over 3 tons of drugs, valued at between 25 and 27 thousand million Euro, hidden under cement and construction tools. The truck was in the east of the country heading from the port of Nouadhibou towards Bassiknou*, not too far from Mali. A former military officer was accompanying the truck in his own car. He and several other retired military, officials and elders, plus others from Morocco and Nigeria, formed a national network of traffickers which had been under surveillance. UPDATE 9 May: MauriPress sent out an urgent communiqué [ar] on 29 April that a reporter had been threatened and intimidated in Bassiknou while observing customs officials checking vehicles in the city. UPDATE 7 May: esrahaa.net reports [ar] that inspection of Mauritania customs administration has been cancelled and officials withdrawn on the orders of the Inspector General, said to be acting at the whim of her husband, who is close friends with the Customs Chief, General Mohamed Ould El Mamy.
This news was almost immediately followed by a report from security sources [ar] claiming to have captured two AQIM terrorists on their way to Nouakchott to conduct a bombing campaign in commemoration of Osama bin Laden’s death. This seems highly improbable even at first look, given that Mauritania has never been linked to bin Laden’s death up to now.
By morning Al Qaeda representatives had been quick to deny any knowledge [ar] of such a plan. In fact, many of the Mauritanian government’s claims** regarding their part in the war on terror seem to be on shaky ground.
Meanwhile the leader of a rebel group in Western Sahara has accused [fr] the MUJAO group in northern Mali – supposedly an AQIM splinter group – of actually being the creation of Morocco’s secret service. This is very bad news for the hostages reportedly being held by MUJAO in northern Mali: an Italian woman*** and two Spaniards kidnapped in Tindouf [en] last October 2011, and seven Algerians snatched from the Gao embassy [en] in April 2012.
*You might remember hearing about the 20 million dollar project funded by the Islamic Development Bank to build a road between Nema and Bassiknou, which is part of a broader plan for a road network linking isolated communities in Mauritania to centres of urban and industrial development. Approval for the loan was finalised in a meeting [ar] of the Mauritanian cabinet ministers on Thursday 3 May. As I am talking about construction work, I will add video here of a protest on Saturday 5 May by residents of a rural community against quarrying being conducted in their area by a Chinese company. They say the work is being undertaken without regard for environmental and public health risks, and they are suffering as a result of this negligence.
** For example: the air strike [en] in which two civilians were reported injured but which was claimed as a hit on AQIM. There are also at least two instances of the murder of civilians in Mauritania from previous years [en] that were initially reported as robbery homicides then quickly reassigned as terrorist activity.
*** Rossella Urru [it] (pictured)