World News

Mauritania adopts new anti-terrorism law

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - Mauritania has adopted a new anti-terrorism law, a move designed to give its security forces greater powers in the fight against al Qaeda in the West African desert nation.

Mauritania, alongside neighbors Mali and Algeria, and nearby Niger, is under pressure to improve its own capacity and regional coordination against the Islamists, who have carried out a string of kidnappings and attacks on authorities.

The law was passed by Mauritania’s National Assembly late on Wednesday and then the Senate Thursday. A previous version of the bill had to be changed after opposition politicians said it violated civil liberties.

“In general, terrorists strike countries where there is a lack of security or legislation. So for us, it was about filling this institutional and legislative gap,” said Sid Ahmed Ould Ahmed, leader of the UPR majority group in parliament.

Al Qaeda’s North Africa wing, which is known as AQIM, operates in the vast open spaces of the Sahara, where national authorities hold little sway and a patchwork of local rebels and smugglers have long-operated.

A number of Westerners have been shot by suspected Islamists in Mauritania, but kidnappings for ransoms and attacks on isolated security patrols are more common.

Under the new law, restrictions on searches of houses or wire-taps by the security forces -- formerly in place due to Islamic laws -- are lifted, so long as authorization is granted by a judge.

People under the age of 18 can also be charged under the new law, unlike before, when they were protected by Islamic legislation.

The new law also grants immunity to members of terrorist groups who inform the authorities of a planned attack.

Opposition lawmakers still worry that the revised legislation will be abused and say they will challenge the law in the Constitutional Court.

Reporting by Laurent Prieur; Editing by David Lewis