A member of Mauritania's National Guard on patrol in 2012, following the growth of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in nearby northern Mali. Bassikounou, Mauritania, May 22, 2012. (Joe Penney/Reuters/Corbis)

A member of Mauritania's National Guard on patrol in 2012, following the growth of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in nearby northern Mali. Bassikounou, Mauritania, May 22, 2012. (Joe Penney/Reuters/Corbis)

On June 16, a Mauritanian court sentenced three men to prison terms for allegedly having ties to the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). The men were accused of “belonging to an organization established with the goal of committing terrorist crimes, instigating religious violence, using symbols relating to a terrorist organization for the sake of glorifying it, and providing a meeting place for persons with a relationship to a terrorist organization.”

The accused denied the charges, but the prosecution played a film that reportedly showed the men pledging allegiance to ISIS. The men were part of a cell arrested by authorities in Zouerate, northern Mauritania in October 2014. They will each serve between five and 10 years in prison.

Is ISIS a serious threat to Mauritania? Yes, but only to an extent. Authorities in the West African nation have two reasons to be concerned. The first is the presence of ISIS elsewhere in the region. It has an affiliate in Libya, whose fortunes have been mixed. It has also claimed responsibility for major terrorist attacks in Tunisia recently, including the fatal shooting of 39 tourists at a beach on June 26, and the March 18 raid on the Bardo Museum in Tunis. ISIS has also attracted the allegiance of Nigeria’s Boko Haram sect, proclaiming an “Islamic State of West Africa.” This regional presence could attract Mauritanians to either fight elsewhere—and return home later to cause problems—or attempt to build their own affiliate within Mauritania. An unknown, likely small, number of Mauritanians have already joined ISIS.

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