African Islamist militias merge
22 August 2013, 16:04
Nouakchott - An al-Qaeda-linked militia founded by wanted
Islamist commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar announced on Thursday it had joined forces
with another armed group to take revenge against France for its military
offensive in Mali.
Belmokhtar's Mauritania-based Al-Mulathameen Brigade (The
Brigade of the Masked Ones) and the Mali-based Movement for Oneness and Jihad
in West Africa (Mujao) said they had joined forces under a single banner to
unite Muslims across the region.
"Your brothers in Mujao and Al-Mulathameen announce
their union and fusion in one movement called Al-Murabitoun to unify the ranks
of Muslims around the same goal, from the Nile to the Atlantic," the
groups said in a statement published by Mauritanian news agency ANI.
Belmokhtar, a one-eyed Algerian former commander of al-Qaeda
in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), allegedly masterminded a siege in January of an
Algerian gas plant in which 38 hostages, including three Americans, died.
Branded "The Uncatchable", Belmokhtar is also
thought to have been behind twin car bombings in Niger in May that left at
least 20 people dead.
The Algeria siege and the Niger assaults were said to have
been carried out in retaliation for France's military intervention launched in
January against Islamist groups in Mali.
Belmokhtar, who broke away from Aqim in 2012 and was
involved in the fighting against Chadian forces in Mali, was reported to have
been killed in action in March.
The reports, however, were never confirmed and it is
believed that he remains at large.
He has been designated a foreign terrorist by the United
States since 2003, with the State Department offering a $5 million reward for
information leading to his capture.
Stronger than ever
Mujao is thought to be led by Mauritanian ethnic Tuareg
Ahmed Ould Amer, who goes by the nom de guerre "Ahmed Telmissi".
The group broke away from Aqim in mid-2011 with the apparent
goal of spreading jihad further into areas of west Africa not within Aqim's
It was one of a number of Islamist groups that occupied
northern Mali last year, imposing a brutal interpretation of Islamic sharia law
characterised by amputations, beatings and executions, before being ousted by
the French-led military intervention.
The statement said the two men had signed a document
announcing their merger and ceding command of the new movement to "another
personality", without revealing the identity of the new leader, according
The statement said the jihadist movement in the region was
now "stronger than ever" and threatened France and its allies,
promising "to rout their troops".
Al-Murabitoun - an Arabic phrase meaning "the
sentinels" - was the name given to a Berber dynasty of Morocco which
formed an empire in the 11th century.
Today the name is used by a Nasserist political party in