French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said May 28 during a stop in Niger that the attackers who carried out last week’s double suicide bombings on a military camp and uranium mine likely came from southern Libya—indicating that jihadist forces driven from north Mali have taken refuge across borders in the lawless spaces of the Sahara. He also said they had inside help, saying: “The terrorist groups benefited from a certain level of complicity.” Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou’s also said the jihadists infiltrated from Libya.
The May 23 attack was claimed by Moktar Belmoktar, commander of a renegade faction of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, now operating under the name “Signatories in Blood.” Explosive-laden cars simultaneously penetrated both a military garrison in the desert outpost of Agadez and the Somair mine, operated by French nuclear giant Areva, in the town of Arlit, some 100 miles away. The coordinated blasts killed 24 soldiers at Agadez and one worker at Arlit, as well as 10 assailants. The Agadez base was briefly held by the militants, before it was re-taken in a joint raid by French spcial forces and Niger army troops.
Belmokhtar had been reported dead in March* by Chad’s President Idriss Deby Itno, who said the one-eyed jihadist had been killed in fighting in Mali. But the militant group’s spokesman El-Hassen Ould Khalil was quoted as saying by a Mauritanian news agency that “it was Belmokhtar himself who supervised the operational plans” in the Niger attacks. (AP, May 28; AFP, May 25)
* Not, as AFP reported, in April.