Magharebia (Washington DC)

Mali: Ansar Al-Din Threat Stokes Sahel Fears

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Nouakchott — Malian Islamist group Ansar al-Din revoked its peace pledge last Thursday (January 3rd), upending talks with Bamako.

"We have put on hold an offer we've previously made to the Malian government to stop hostilities in northern Mali and at the same time hold the negotiations that we started weeks ago with the Malian central government," Sahara Media quoted Ansar al-Din leader Iyad Ag Ghaly as saying in a statement.

Ag Ghaly added that the group was "not left any option in the face of Mali's desire to wage war". Ag Ghaly said the pledge to end hostilities had been "torn out" of his delegation during "rough negotiations" in Algeria. But Ansar al-Din said it was "still open to any serious start of negotiations".

The Islamist leader went on to accuse the Malian government of preparing for war during peace talks, including "large-scale recruitment of fighters, including former mercenaries from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast".

The Ansar al-Din statement was only a manoeuvring tactic to pressure the Malian government, according to Riadh Ould Ahmed El Hadi, director of aqlame.com and an expert in terror group ideologies.

"Ansar al-Din has found itself faced with two tough options: the need to enter into the negotiations that were brokered by the regional organisation and the desire to avoid a military confrontation on the one hand, and on the other, the desire to preserve its interests and relations with its allies among local armed groups," the analyst added.

The analyst noted that Ansar al-Din had partnered with both al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) in the past.

"These press statements are aimed at gaining more time while the Malian government refuses to give any self-rule before the region has been cleansed of armed jihadist groups," he concluded. The Ag Ghaly statement came just a day after a MUJAO brigade defected. The Salah ad-Din militia under the leadership of Sultan Ould Badi, who hails from Timbuktu Arabs, declared allegiance to the Ansar al-Din leader and his group.

"Our group has made a great effort for several months to unify mujahideen in Azawad, and this has prompted Salah ad-Din brigade, whose elements mostly hail from Gao and some areas in Kidal province, to join us," Ansar al-Din official spokesperson Sanad Ould Bouamama said.

Arab Movement for the Liberation of Azawad spokesperson Mohamed Mouloud Ramadhan said, "In my opinion the reason for the defection of Salah ad-Din brigade from MUJAO is because the UN resolution classified MUJAO as a terrorist group, and therefore, the elements of that brigade want to avoid international condemnation by joining Ansar al-Din that hasn't been classified as a terrorist group."

However, Abu Bakr al-Sedik Ag Hadi, a professor at Bamako University, told Magharebia that "the mistake of Ansar al-Din is that it wants to speak in the name of population and a region that reject their rule, whether in Kidal, Gao or Timbuktu".

"Ansar al-Din is very wrong when it tries to impose a certain pattern of rule on a majority that doesn't accept it, and this was the same mistake that MNLA committed in the past and paid for," the professor added.

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