By Jemal Oumar
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility Thursday (December 8th) for the kidnapping of five foreign nationals in two recent Mali terror attacks.
In a statement sent to AFP and ANI, the terror group said it was behind the abduction of two Frenchmen from Hombori, located in the desert region between Mopti and Gao, as well as the attack in Timbuktu where three tourists were taken and another killed. The terror network said the attacks were in response Malian, French and Mauritanian security operations.
The same AQIM statement denied any involvement in the kidnapping of three aid workers from a Polisario-run refugee camp in Rabuni, south of Tindouf.
AQIM also said it was taking revenge for the arrest of several terrorists, including Mohamed Lemine Ould M’Balla, who Mali extradited to Mauritania. The statement went on to cite the detention of other terror leaders, as well as Mauritania’s military campaign in the Wagadou Forest.
The terror network claimed the two taken from Hombori were working for French intelligence and that the attack was carried out in response to French foreign policy in the Sahel.
A group of French investigators arrived in Bamako on Tuesday to begin investigating the circumstances surrounding the Hombori attack, according to Jeune Afrique. The journal cited Malian security sources as saying three or four French officials were questioning people suspected of involvement in the abduction of Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, who were seized at gunpoint from their hotel.
Abdel Hamid al-Ansari, an expert in the Azouad region, told Magharebia that “there is no doubt that al-Qaeda is behind the kidnapping of French nationals in the city of Hombori because the information available so far shows that the operation was carried by men affiliated to Abdelkrim Talib who leads a branch of AQIM and seeks to control the entire Sahara.”
In a related development, Sidi Ali Gawaysoun, a resident of northern Mali, told Magharebia that “last week, armed men believed to be affiliated with al-Qaeda stopped construction work at a military barracks in northern Mali and forced construction workers to leave the place.”
Meanwhile, Touareg activists denied any involvement in the al-Qaeda attacks. Ewadi Keltintihoune with the Azouad liberation movement told Magharebia that there was no co-operation between his group and terrorists.
“These are just accusations made by some people to discredit our legitimate struggle for separation from the Malian government,” he said. “We’re against AQIM, and its presence among us disfigures our image and links us to terrorism.”
“We have clear goals, and we don’t use our weapons to kidnap Western nationals,” Keltintihoune added.