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Foreign jihadists pour into northern Mali

23 october 2012, 13:44
0
©AFP
©AFP
Hundreds of jihadist fighters poured into Mali over the weekend to support the Islamists who have controlled the north for seven months ahead of a threatened regional intervention, AFP reports.

Residents of the main cities of Timbuktu and Gao, Malian security officials and Islamist commanders all confirmed Sunday that a massive influx of foreign fighters has occurred over the past two days.

"In the Timbuktu region and around Gao, hundreds of jihadists, mostly Sudanese and Sahrawis, have arrived as reinforcements to face an offensive by Malian forces and their allies," a Malian security official said on condition of anonymity.

One resident of Timbuktu said "more than 150 Sudanese Islamists arrived in 48 hours".

"They are armed and explained that they had come to help their Muslim brothers against the infidels," he said.

A source close to a local aid group also said that many Sudanese had arrived in the region over the weekend but added there were also fighters from other countries.

Timbuktu is one of the main cities in northern Mali, which Islamist groups have controlled since overpowering a secular Tuareg rebellion that seized the area in March.

The fabled desert city is under the control of Ansar Dine, a group led by a former Tuareg rebel leader, and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

-- 'They want war, we'll give them war' --

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In Gao, further east, a similar influx of foreign fighters was reported by residents.

"Since Friday, Islamists have been arriving and reporting to the Islamic police" of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, the AQIM offshoot that controls the city, one resident said.

He said he had seen around 10 pickups packed with armed fighters driving up to MUJAO's main office in Gao.

The Islamist group itself confirmed it was receiving the support of foreigners as the regional bloc ECOWAS was finalising its plans for a military intervention.

"They want war, we'll give them war. This is why our brothers are joining us from all over," Habib Ould Issouf, one of MUJAO's top leaders in Gao, told AFP.

"They are coming from the camps of Tindouf in Algeria, from Senegal, from Ivory Coast, from everywhere," he said.

Led by former colonial power France, the international community has urged Mali and its regional allies to speed up preparations for a military offensive.

The 15-state Economic Community of West African States -- of which Mali is a member -- has a 3,000-strong force ready to deploy but its funding and exact makeup remain unclear.

France's defence minister said Tuesday that the regional intervention was "a matter of weeks, not months".

Mali is currently led by an interim administration, following a March 22 coup which was short-lived but allowed rebels to seize the north -- a territory larger than France -- virtually unopposed in a matter of days.

Since they captured the north, Ansar Dine and MUJAO have implemented an extreme form of Islamic law, amputating thieves, stoning unwed couples and ordering women to wear full veils.

Western powers have expressed fears that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates could turn northern Mali into the same type of haven that Afghanistan was a decade ago.

News that jihadist fighters from region were converging on northern Mali came as interim president Dioncounda Traore flew out to Qatar for a three-day visit.

Some Malian media outlets have accused the oil-rich emirate of supporting the Islamists but Doha has denied the allegations.

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