Mali's three largest Islamist factions have announced they will merge into a single group. Among them is al-Mourabitoun, which in January claimed responsibility for a military camp attack that killed up to 60 people.
Mali's three main jihadist groups announced on Thursday that they will merge into a single group called the "Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen," which in English translates to "Support of Islam and Muslims."
SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist websites said that leaders from the Ansar Dine, al-Mourabitoun and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb declared their allegiance to al-Qaida in a video statement. Iyad Ag Ghaly, the former leader of Ansar Dine, will lead the group, according to the monitoring group.
In an audio excerpt from the statement, Ghaly can reportedly be heard pledging his allegiance to slain Jordanian jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose Al-Qaeda in Iraq group later became the self-proclaimed "Islamic State". He can also be heard praising Al-Qaeda's current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and founder Osama Bin laden.
In spring 2012, the Mali government lost control of the northern region to extremist groups for around year before it was reclaimed with the help of a French-led international military intervention.
Despite the UN having since deployed a large peacekeeping force in the north, Islamist militants have continued to conduct numerous attacks against local military and peacekeeping forces. Jihadist groups also use the north of the country also serves as a launch pad for attacks in neighboring countries.
German participation in the UN's Mali mission is said to be the Bundeswehr's most difficult and dangerous overseas mission, with peacekeepers being among the main targets for extremists. Ghaly's Ansar Dine fighters have reportedly claimed a number attacks on French and UN forces.
Al-Mourabitoun, meanwhile, is believed to have carried out the most recent high profile attacks. In January, a suicide bomber affiliated with the group attacked a military base in the north, killing up to 60 people and wounding around 100.
The group is also thought to have carried out an assault on a Radisson hotel in the capital Bamako in November 2015 in which 20 people were killed.
dm/bw (AFP, AP)