Wed, Oct 31, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Mali Islamists vow reprisal for intervention

COMBAT CATALYST:Militant groups that control two-thirds of the country’s north have said that any foreign attempt to curb their jihad will only strengthen their resolve

The guardian, BAMAKO

Islamist rebels will attack Mali’s capital if international military intervention is launched to regain control of the country’s north, a senior member of an insurgent group closely linked to al-Qaeda told reporters.

Oumar Ould Hamaha, head of security for the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) claimed that rebels have recruited thousands of new fighters and warned that intervention would galvanize the international jihadist movement.

“If an international or Malian military force attacks us, we will take Bamako in 24 hours,” Hamaha said by telephone. “The international community is slow to strike because it knows that if it does, it will spark a worldwide jihad.”

“Plans for a military intervention do not diminish in any way our determination to promote jihad,” Hamaha added.

The defiant rhetoric from MUJAO — which together with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine control the northern two-thirds of Mali— came as US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Algeria to rally support for intervention.

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution underscoring its “readiness” to send an international force to drive Islamists out of northern Mali, setting a deadline at the end of next month for a firm plan for military action. Mali is working on plans involving troops from the Mali army and West Africa regional bloc ECOWAS, with training, logistics and intelligence support from France, the US and other countries.

However, military action would probably require the support of Algeria, which initially opposed intervention. The country shares a 2,000km desert border with Mali — seen as a key route for illicit trade of arms and drugs in and out of Mali — while many insurgents fighting in northern Mali are reported to be of Algerian origin.

“There is a strong recognition that Algeria has to be a central part of the solution,” said a US official, who added that the situation in northern Mali would be a “central focus” of Clinton’s talks with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

The role of the US in combating AQIM in northern Mali has been a source of controversy in recent weeks. Hamaha said the MUJAO was aware that US surveillance drones were operating regularly in the region and that this was having the effect of encouraging support for the Islamist cause in northern Mali.

“We see drones passing overhead all the time. This is not something we take seriously — we are not afraid of drones. On the contrary, by trying to intimidate us, the West is only sharpening the sword we will use against it,” he said.

Experts said rebel threats to attack southern parts of Mali could not be discounted.

“I think the claims about Bamako are mostly posturing, but we cannot rule out the possibility of attacks outside of northern Mali,” said Andrew Lebovich, a researcher on the Sahel and North Africa. “AQIM and MUJAO have operated beyond the confines of northern Mali in the past and these groups do have the capability to stage attacks elsewhere, although it would be difficult given the attention on these groups at the moment.”

Hamaha said that there were no prospects of negotiation.

“We don’t recognize any government in Bamako,” Hamaha added. “The minister of defense called me to talk about negotiating towards a secular state. I told him it’s sharia or the sword. No sharia, no dialogue. Our mission is straight. There is no negotiation to be had.”

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