In Mauritania Authorities say dismantled jihadist cell had no IS link

They had intended to "terrify" Arab leaders by raising the IS black flag and scrawling graffiti on buildings to assert the presence of the group in the Mauritanian capital.

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Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz who came to power in 2008 boasts that he has turned his nation into a regional haven of peace thanks to his reorganisation of the military and security forces play

Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz who came to power in 2008 boasts that he has turned his nation into a regional haven of peace thanks to his reorganisation of the military and security forces

(POOL/AFP/File)
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Mauritania denied Thursday that a suspected jihadist cell uncovered by the authorities had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group (IS), after its members appeared in court accused of targeting a recent Arab League summit.

Government spokesman Mohamed Lemine Ould Cheikh said the group were "amateurs" and denied a formal link with IS central command during a news conference.

"This group was made up of 10 amateurs who were planning activities in support of a terrorist group," Ould Cheikh said, insisting there was no IS cell in Mauritania.

However a judicial source, speaking to AFP on Wednesday when the group appeared before a prosecuting magistrate, painted a different picture of what it said were 10 men "apprehended just before the Arab (League) summit which took place on July 24."

They had intended to "terrify" Arab leaders by raising the IS black flag and scrawling graffiti on buildings to assert the presence of the group in the Mauritanian capital.

In addition "a Salafist was pulled out of prison in Nouakchott to help with the enquiry", the source said, while "the other 10 had links to this Salafist", using the word for an adherent of an ultra-conservative brand of Islam.

Local press said the gang's leader was a former faith healer turned extremist and IS supporter.

All remained in custody on Thursday.

Mauritania jailed three men for between five and 10 years for links with IS in June 2015, with the court shown a video in which all three pledged allegiance.

In August of that year a young Salafist leader was arrested and accused of spreading IS propaganda.

Mauritania, the mainly Muslim republic sandwiched between the west coast of Africa and the Sahara desert, is seen by Western leaders as a bulwark against militant Islamist groups play

Mauritania, the mainly Muslim republic sandwiched between the west coast of Africa and the Sahara desert, is seen by Western leaders as a bulwark against militant Islamist groups

(AFP/File)

Kidnappings and attacks by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) were frequent when Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz came to power in 2008.

But he boasts that he has turned his nation into a regional haven of peace thanks to his reorganisation of the military and security forces.

The mainly Muslim republic, sandwiched between the west coast of Africa and the Sahara desert, is seen by Western leaders as a bulwark against militant Islamist groups.

The spotlight has been thrown on the growing threat of Islamist extremism across Africa's vast Sahel region since a French-led military intervention drove Al-Qaeda-linked groups out of the towns of neighbouring Mali's desert north in 2013.

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