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al-Qaeda alive and growing. North African branch of al-Qaeda sends troops to Mali

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 19th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The North Africa branch of al-Qaeda has sent hundreds of fighters to join the ranks of its Islamist allies in the Gao region of Northern Mali. MNLA separatists had tried to retake the region earlier.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Tuareg rebels had launched a failed offensive previously. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) along with its allies at first fought alongside the nomadic Tuareg people's Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) to seize control of Mali's vast desert north. A military coup in the area last march had left the area vulnerable.

Radical Islamists, who intend to enforce the strict Islamic law of sharia, soon turned on their more secular Tuareg allies, who are fighting to establish an independent state.

Gao and its surroundings were at first under the control of the Tuareg MNLA, the Movement for Oneness but the Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) ousted them at the end of June.

The MNLA attacked the Islamist fighters late last week, but suffered a major defeat that saw about a dozen of their men killed. The group says in fact that only nine fighters were injured. They claimed they killed more than 20 MUJAO fighters and wounding "several dozen" more.

"We are delighted with this first success," the MNLA said in a statement. The region remains tense, waiting for the next shoe to fall and to see if the Tuareg rebels will regroup for a fresh assault.

In preparation of the a new offensive, AQIM sent about 300 reinforcements from Timbuktu, about 185 miles west of Gao, witnesses say.

"Our goal remains to retake Azawad from the hands of AQIM and its allies. We can fall back, but it's only to be able to better push forwards after," Moussa Salem, an MNLA says. Azawad is the Tuareg name for northern Mali.

MUJAO spokesman Walid Abu Sahraoui said his group would continue to pursue the MNLA across the entire region. "We are in control of the situation," he said.

The Tuaregs have lost control of all towns located in this massive desert region since their defeat at the hands of the radical Islamists in late June. The area is larger than the U.S. state of Texas and spans two-thirds of Mali's territory.

In the regions under their control, Islamist groups have implemented sharia law and carried out brutal punishments. An unmarried couple has been reportedly stoned to death, and the hands and feet of accused thieves have been lopped off.

At one time considered one of the most stable democracies in West Africa, Mali rapidly imploded after the March coup that overthrew the government of former president Amadou Toumani Toure. The ensuing power vacuum allowed the Tuareg to seize the main towns in the north with the help of their then-allies AQIM, MUJAO and Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith).

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