Islamists claim control of north Mali after gun battle with former allies
Al Qaeda-linked Islamists have declared full control of Mali’s desert north, after pushing their former Tuareg separatist allies out of the town of Gao in a battle that killed at least 20 people.
The appropriation by Islamists of a separatist uprising by Tuareg MNLA rebels regarded in the West as having some legitimate political grievances will heighten fears Mali will become a haven for jihadists.
The local Ansar Dine group and allies such as the al-Qaeda splinter group MUJWA had already gained the upper hand in the northern town of Kidal and the ancient trading post of Timbuktu after government forces were routed in an April rebel advance.
“Our men control all three of the towns in northern Mali,” Oumar Ould Hamaha, a Timbuktu-based Ansar Dine official said yesterday of the mostly desert territory.
“They [the MNLA] all ran away, we decided not to pursue them. ... All I can tell you is that they are not even in the outskirts the city,” Mr Hamaha said of the battle in Gao.
The separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad – the northern territory it claims as an independent state – said its forces beat a tactical retreat in Gao on Wednesday and rejected suggestions they had lost the battle.
“Right now some MNLA units, stationed at the borders of Azawad, are coming back to completely rid the city of Gao of Islamist groups,” MNLA spokesman Mossa Ag Attaher said in a written statement.
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