An al-Qaeda-linked group based in Northern Mali has promised to attack Nigeria and other West African countries involved in raising a regional force against the jihadist insurrection in Northern Mali.
The French news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP), in a report on Friday quoted the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) which has taken over Northern Mali, threatening to attack the interests of countries that would join a military intervention force in that country.
Nigeria is leading other Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries to raise a 3,270 intervention force to rid Northern Mali of a regime of religious extremists and reunite the country.
Western diplomats have repeatedly warned that unless a drastic measure was taken, Northern Mali could become West Africa’s Afghanistan where terrorists would be trained and deployed across the sub-region.
The group, also including Ansar Dine and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has since imposed an austere version of sharia law in Northern Mali, and it has fallen out with the Tuaregs with whom it started the insurrection.
Tuareg rebels and Islamist hardliners had earlier jointly taken over a stretch of Northern Mali the size of Afghanistan.
Leaders of ECOWAS met in Ivory Coast on Friday in a bid to end the crisis.
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 Malian capital, Bamako.
Mali has been gripped by chaos since disgruntled troops swarmed Bamako in the South in March and ousted the elected president of what had been seen as one of Africa’s model democracies.
The West African leaders who gathered Friday in Yamoussoukro called on the United Nations (UN) Security Council to speed up the adoption of a resolution authorising the regional force.
The ECOWAS force requires international support for such an operation. It also needs 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 Ivorien official 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,” the 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 North-East 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.
Reuters, a few days ago reported Nigeria, Niger and Senegal as key countries that had pledged to provide the core of a 3,270-strong force which mission would initially be bolstering Mali’s fragmented army and stabilising political institutions, and then tackling the rebel-held North, if talks fail.
Of the 15 UN Security Council members, France, Morocco and Togo were among the most enthusiastic about swiftly endorsing an ECOWAS operation in Francophone Mali, council envoys said. Others, they added, are more skeptical.
France’s U.N. mission announced a more optimistic assessment of the Security Council talks with ECOWAS and the AU.
“We have made good progress at ECOWAS/UNSC talks to help Mali uphold its constitutional order and territorial integrity,” the mission announced on its Twitter feed.