Magharebia (Washington DC)

Mali: Sahel Jihadist Groups Splinter

Nouakchott — Moderates are abandoning Islamist groups in northern Mali as an international military coalition ramps up the pressure.

Malian troops backed by their African and French allies continued their push against jihadists in the country's north on Monday (January 28th), as new divisions emerged in radical Islamist groups.

The recent liberation of northern cities accelerated the discord, especially within Ansar al-Din, which is spearheading the armed resistance.

The first signs of these cracks appeared on Thursday (January 24th), when Ansar al-Din lead mediator Alghabasse Ag Intalla defected to form the Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA).

Ag Intalla also expressed his readiness to accept a peaceful solution through dialogue and a ceasefire with the French and Malian armies.

"Radicals in Ansar al-Din are considering the dismissal of Iyad Ag Ghaly from the leadership of movement because of the serious errors he made when he attacked southern Mali to pressure the Malian government about negotiating," Touareg journalist and blogger Amakanass Ag Akal told Magharebia.

Ag Akal explained that one reason for his dismissal is "the position of his Ifoghas tribe which has shifted towards moderation."

In addition to political splits among the jihadist groups, several military commanders also defected, joining the secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).

The latest one was Gamou Ag Mineli, a former Malian army colonel, who defected with a military convoy and a number of fighters to join the MNLA.

According to Sahara Media, "Colonel Ag Mineli is currently stationed near the town of Leyra together with 20 vehicles equipped with heavy weapons and a large number of fighters."

Analyst Sidi Mohamed Ould Abdelkader told Magharebia that military strikes also had an impact on the position of the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).

MUJAO leaders have expressed a desire to negotiate the release of French hostage Gilberto Rodriguez.

"I think that this terrorist group wants to buy some time through this announcement," said Ould Abdelkader.

In the meantime, the international community continued to try to garner more military and moral support for the war on terror in northern Mali.

Attendees at the 20th Summit of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa called on the international community to provide more support. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took the AU's request for aid to the UN, asking member states to provide logistical support for the International Mission of Support in Mali (MISMA).

"We are determined to do what we can to help the people of Mali," the UN chief said. "This is a moral imperative for all the international community."

He added that the UN would be sending military experts and a political team to Mali, and that he would seek the Security Council's approval to support the African-led Mission there.

In turn, Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi called for the full deployment of African forces. The same demand was made by the AU's new chairman, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

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