Daily Trust (Abuja)

Mali Militants Not Fighting for Islam - Minister

Senegal — Militants who controlled northern Mali for nearly a year before they were dislodged weeks ago were not fighting for Islam but were instead carving out a region of lawlessness where organised crime would continue to thrive, the country's minister for religious affairs said yesterday.

Yacouba Traore, who spoke at an international conference in Dakar, Senegal, said the militants were terrorists perpetrating rape, drug trafficking, killings and destruction of historical and state symbols.

"The war is a war on terrorism and organised crime," he said.

Traore said activities of the rebels had nothing to do with religion, and that the international campaign in Mali was not a war on Islam, saying more than 95 percent of Mali's population comprises Muslims.

"They [militants] committed criminal acts under the guise of Islam. What they were doing was trying to create a region of lawlessness where they would continue to perpetrate their criminal activities," he said.

"Mali is more than 95 percent Muslim, so this war is not a crusade against Islam. It is a war to recover the territories from terrorists--to protect the territorial integrity of Mali and end the criminal activities taking place in those areas."

Traore said the Malian government was grateful to Nigeria and Senegal as well as other African nations which sent troops to help in the operation to liberate the northern areas hitherto held by militants.

The minister also expressed gratitude to France and its president Francois Hollande for leading the international campaign in Mali. He said it was the decisive action taken by France that stopped the advance of the rebels southwards and also liberated Timbuktu and Gao.

He commended the nations that contributed $445 million to support the international military mission and fund humanitarian activities.

The Dakar conference, which held with the theme "Diversity and Cohesion in a Globalised World" was organised by the Atlantic Turkish-Senegalese Association (ATSA) and Ebru Magazine, in partnership with the Senegalese Ministry of Education and African Institute of Basic Research (or Institut Fondamental de l'Afrique Noire, IFAN).

It was aimed at exploring contributions towards peaceful coexistence in a globalised world made by the Gulen Movement, an initiative named after Turkish scholar Fethullah Gulen.

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