Mali: Tuareg rebel militias again seize Timbuktu

Installation of an interim authority in Timbuktu, part of a peace deal with Tuareg rebels in Mali's desert north, was blocked as hardline factions erected street barricades across the city March 6. Former rebel leader Boubacar Ould Hamadi was to become head of the interim authority in Timbuktu. The rejectionist factions, holding out for greater autonomy in the region, are led by the Council for Justice in Azawad. Last week, interim authorities were successfully installed in the towns of Kidal and Menaka. But there were also difficulties in Gao, where dozens of armed men briefly occupied the regional assembly building until their demands for greater participation were met. (Reuters, AFP, March 6)

The impasse in Timbuktu is a setback for plans to establish joint patrols by government forces and Tuareg militias against jihadist insurgents, and comes at a critical time. In a March 2 communique, various jihadist factions announced that they had joined forces under the banner of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and claimed responsibility for a March 5 raid on a military base at Boulikessi, near the border with Burkina Faso, that left 11 soliders dead. The new Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), led by Iyad Ag Ghaly of Ansar Dine, also brings together forces of Al-Murabitoun, led by Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, and the Macina Brigades, active in central Mali. (AFP, March 10; OHCHR, March 9)

  1. Belmokhtar ousted as head of Murabitoun

    Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the influential Algerian leader of the Qaeda-affiliated al-Mourabitoun group, has apparently been dismissed by the group's council of elders, Mauritanian and Malian security sources said. The council has reportedly appointed Belmokhtar's deputy, Abderrahmane al-Sanhaji, another Algerian, without yet making it official. Malian security services have downgraded Belmokhtar to an "isolated terrorist." (MEE, May 9)