West African terrorist group threatens France over Mali intervention
In this July 23, 2013 file photo, French soldiers patrol through the central market in Timbuktu, Mali. A branch of al-Qaida occupied Timbuktu for 10 months, up until January 2013, when France sent soldiers to flush out the extremists. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)
Robbie Corey-Boulet, The Associated Press
Published Monday, January 6, 2014 3:49PM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 6, 2014 5:07PM EST
DAKAR, Senegal -- A terror group active in West Africa has threatened to target the interests of "France and her allies" in retaliation for France's military intervention in Mali last year, according to a Mauritanian website frequently used by local jihadists to communicate with the outside world.
The statement from the Mourabitounes group, sent Saturday to the Nouakchott Information Agency, also detailed terrorist operations carried out by the group's members last year, including attacks in Niger and Mali, and the killing of foreign hostages at a natural gas plant in southeastern Algeria.
Mourabitounes was formed in August, when the one-eyed terror leader Moktar Belmoktar officially joined forces with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, a radical al-Qaida-linked jihadist group that once controlled part of northern Mali and has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in the Gao region since France intervened.
In a statement last month designating the Mourabitounes group as a foreign terrorist organization, the U.S. State Department said it "constitutes the greatest near-term threat to U.S. and Western interests" in Africa's Sahel region.
France intervened in Mali in January 2013 after the country's northern half fell under the control of Islamic extremists following a March 2012 military coup. Later that month, Belmoktar staged his most notorious operation targeting the Algerian natural gas facility at Ain Amenas, taking hundreds hostage before the army attacked, killing nearly all the militants. At least 40 hostages died in the standoff.
The State Department has said three U.S. citizens were killed in the attack and that seven Americans escaped.
More recently Belmoktar and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa claimed joint responsibility in May for attacks in Niger. Suicide bombers detonated two car bombs simultaneously there, one inside a military camp in the city of Agadez and another in the remote town of Arlit at a French-operated uranium mine, killing a total of 26 people and wounding dozens.
The latest message from the Mourabitounes group accused France of killing "peaceful children, women and old men" during its operations in northern Mali.
"The mujahedeen will not rest with arms crossed facing this situation, even if, today, the voice of injustice prevails," the Nouakchott Information Agency website quoted the message as saying.
The French Foreign Ministry declined on Monday night to comment on the message, and the French military could not immediately be reached.
Associated Press writer Angela Charlton contributed reporting from Paris.