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Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists claim UN suicide attack in Mali

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United Nations (UN) soldiers patrol in the northern Malian city of Kidal. (AFP Photo/Kenzo Tribouillard)

United Nations (UN) soldiers patrol in the northern Malian city of Kidal. (AFP Photo/Kenzo Tribouillard)

The Al-Qaeda-linked group of notorious one-eyed Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed responsibility in a recording Friday for a deadly suicide attack on the United Nations in Mali.

Two civilians were killed and nine peacekeepers from Niger wounded when a militant set off explosives as he attempted to drive into a camp used by the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Ansongo, in the northern region of Gao, on Wednesday.

In an audio message sent to the Mauritanian news agency Alakhbar — which frequently publishes statements attributed to extremist groups, who never deny them — Belmokhtar’s Al-Murabitoun group said it had carried out the attack.

The group said the bomber targeted Niger nationals because their president, Mahamadou Issoufou, took part in the mass Paris rally over the jihadist attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January.

The attack was also an act of revenge for Niger allowing American and French troops on its soil, the three-and-a-half-minute recording in Arabic, which was accompanied by the image of Belmokhtar, added.

Al-Murabitoun had claimed responsibility for the March 7 attack on a Bamako nightclub frequented by Westerners that left a Frenchman and a Belgian dead, as well as three Malians.

It described Wednesday’s assault as “the second operation to avenge insults against the Prophet”, referring to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon depictions of Islam’s prophet Mohammed. Depicting the prophet is considered sacrilegious by many Muslims.

Al-Murabitoun denied that any civilians were killed, arguing that this would not have been possible “given the distance between the camp and the town”.

Mali’s government however said a civilian MINUSMA worker and a child died in the attack, adding that the suicide bomber was also killed and 21 people, including the peacekeepers, were wounded.

“Such attacks can only come from individuals and terrorist groups that are enemies of peace and Mali,” it said, condemning the ” despicable and cowardly act”.

Divided among rival armed factions, plagued by drug trafficking and infiltrated by jihadist groups, Mali’s desert north has struggled to gain stability since the west African nation gained independence in 1960.

The country descended into chaos in 2012 when an insurgency by Tuareg rebels led to a coup in the capital Bamako. Militants linked to Al-Qaeda then overpowered the Tuareg to seize control of Mali’s northern desert.

A French-led military operation launched in January 2013 drove the extremists into the bush but the Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants remain active throughout the northeast.

The insurgents have staged several attacks on UN forces, with at least 35 peacekeepers killed since MINUSMA was deployed in July 2013 — one of the highest tolls for a UN peace mission — and more than 140 wounded.

Al-Murabitoun was formed in 2013 from the merger of Belmokhtar’s Signatories in Blood group and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which had been active in the Gao region.

A former chief of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Belmokhtar is wanted by the security services of several countries after allegedly masterminding a siege in January 2013 of an Algerian gas plant in which 38 mostly Western hostages were killed.

Branded “The Uncatchable”, he is also thought to have been behind twin car bombings in Niger in May of that year that left at least 20 people dead.

He broke away from AQIM in 2012 and was involved in the fighting against Chadian forces in Mali. Chad’s army said he was killed on the battlefield in March 2013 but the report was never confirmed and he later

The claim were never confirmed. He is now thought to be based in Libya.

He has been designated a foreign terrorist by the United States since 2003, with the State Department offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.

MUJAO — the group with which Belmokhtar merged his battalion — was one of three Islamist groups that occupied northern Mali in 2012, imposing a brutal regime of amputations, beatings and executions, before being ousted by the French.


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