Mali’s Islamist rebels threaten to ‘punish’ any attempt at foreign intervention
BAMAKO — An Islamist militant group in lawless northern Mali, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Friday threatened countries who would join a military intervention force.
Mali has been gripped by chaos since disgruntled troops swarmed the capital Bamako in the south in March and ousted the elected president of what had been seen as one of Africa’s model democracies.
In the ensuing weeks, Tuareg rebels and Islamist hardliners have taken over a stretch of northern Mali the size of Afghanistan.
The Islamists, also including Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, have since imposed an austere version of sharia law in northern Mali, and they have fallen out with the Tuareg.
Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, were meeting in Ivory Coast Friday in a bid to end the crisis. The grouping is considering sending a military force of 3,300 troops to Mali.
MUJAO warned that its branches “in several countries are ready to strike the interests of countries that intend to participate in the force of ECOWAS”, spokesman Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui said in a written message.
“The MUJAO is committed to providing all kinds of material and military support for young Muslims determined to raise the banner of Islam. The scene today is open” for jihadists, said the statement sent to an AFP correspondent in the capital Bamako.
The West African leaders gathered Friday in Yamoussoukro meanwhile called on the UN Security Council to speed up the adoption of a resolution authorizing the regional force.
The force requires international support for such an operation, and logistics support from the United States and France.
A first draft was considered too imprecise by the UN Security Council, and ECOWAS is reviewing the proposal.
The heads of state meeting in the Ivorian capital renewed their “commitment to a peaceful settlement” but reiterated their decision to use armed intervention if necessary, according to the final statement.
The MUJAO, for its part, claimed responsibility on Friday for an attack in Algeria — against the regional headquarters of the paramilitary police in the town of Ouargla in which one person was killed and three were wounded.
It said in a text message to AFP in Bamako that a young Algerian from the southern town of Ouargla had carried out the attack, using a Toyota 4×4 car with “almost 1,300 kilograms of explosives”.
“The cells of the MUJAO branch in Algeria succeeded in carrying out a rapid punishment for the Algerian authorities,” spokesman Sahraoui said.
The MUJAO spokesman said the group accused Algeria of encouraging Tuareg rebels to go to war with it, although the secular MNLA Tuaregs had three months ago fought together with the Islamists to take control of north Mali.
The Islamists chased the MNLA out of Gao in the northeast on Wednesday after vicious fighting that left at least 20 dead, witnesses said.
On Friday the Islamists were reinforced by jihadists who arrived from Algeria, various sources said.