A veteran militant called for a return to Shariah law in north Mali at a meeting attended by hundreds of local residents, a video showed, pointing to difficulties Western powers face in countering the influence of extremists in the fragile region.
The 13-minute video was the first in a series entitled “From the depths of the Sahara” released by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s Al Andalus Media Productions, SITE Intelligence Group said on Thursday.
It shows a man identified as Talha al-Azawadi, a former head of Timbuktu’s Islamic police, which became notorious among locals for banning music and stoning alleged adulterers to death during a brief militant occupation in 2012.
While security experts have said Muslim extremists are unlikely to recover their 2012 positions and re-establish Shariah law now that a UN peacekeeping force is in place, the video points to support they still have in some communities.
“This is Azawad and, Allah willing, it will be Islamic and we will not give it up to the enemy,” Talha al-Azawadi said at a community gathering at Boujbeha, north of Timbuktu, on an unspecified date.
Azawad is the name used by some Arab and Tuareg locals to describe Mali’s north.
Some rebel fighters drawn from those populations were allied with the militants during the occupation.
French forces drove Muslim fighters from major urban centers in 2013, but the fighters remain active in the west African nation and have recently intensified their insurgency and spread farther south, striking in the capital, Bamako.
Former colonial power France continues to fight militants in Mali and elsewhere in the desert band known as the Sahel with a 3,500-strong counterterrorism force.
The video also purports to show Abu Baseer al-Bumbari, a fighter identified as having been imprisoned in Mali and swapped for French hostage Serge Lazarevic who was freed in 2014.
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