Magharebia (Washington DC)

Mali: Terror Leaders Caught Near Algeria

Algiers — Touaregs in Mali captured two senior leaders in Ansar al-Din and the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad.

Secular Touareg rebels in northern Mali on Monday (February 4th) announced the capture of two senior terror leaders near the Algerian border.

Fighters from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) arrested Ansar al-Din's third-in-command, Mohamed Moussa Ag Mohamed, as well as a leading figure in the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Oumini Ould Baba Ahmed, as they tried to flee a French assault towards the Algerian border.

Ag Mohamed "was called Ansar al-Din's number three, but in reality he was the brain of the organisation", Kidal official Abdoulaye Toure told AFP.

He was allegedly in charge of amputating thieves' hands in Timbuktu, while Ould Baba Ahmed is accused of taking part in kidnapping several French hostages.

The two terror chiefs were being brought to Kidal, according to the MNLA, where the secular group shares power with Ansar al-Din splinter group Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA).

"The Touareg movement's announcement of the arrest of those two Ansar al-Din and MUJAO leaders is a good will message about Touaregs' readiness to support international efforts to retake the area and their confirmation of support of French forces," said Taher Ben Thamer, a retired military officer.

MNLA offered to support France's mission by tracking down the Islamists. It also offered to hold peace talks with the government of Mali in an attempt to heal the rift between the north and south.

Meanwhile, El Khabar reported that French forces in Mali were moving into the second phase of their operation, focusing on eliminating leaders of armed groups and destroying the Islamists' arms depots.

Since Sunday, the French army has been launching air raids targeting supply bases and training camps used by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Tessalit, near the Algerian border, one of the main gates leading to the Ifoghas Mountains.

Algeria has not issued any formal comment on the military operations taking place near its border.

During a parliamentary session Sunday, Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci was asked about the impact of the situation in Mali on Algeria.

"The Malian authorities are making an effort which we hope will be successful," Medelci said. "Although the current situation allows us to be optimistic, there are still problems facing the Malians. Some countries are helping them so security and stability can be restored in their country and so they can build their own state and look forward towards development."

"The situation in Mali is up for Malians who are making a great effort to get out of this crisis," he added.

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