Tuaregs of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) were fighting what one source said “seemed to be Arab fighters” near the northern town of Tessalit, where suicide car bombers killed three people on Friday. The Al-Qaeda-linked rebel group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), on Saturday claimed responsibility for the bombings in In-Khalil near Tessalit, saying they were specifically targeting the MNLA, which has been cooperating with French forces to flush out rebels from northern Mali. “Through the car bombings against MNLA elements in the In-Khalil zone, the MUJAO is committed to pursuing fight against infidels,” group spokesman Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui said in a statement sent to AFP in Bamako. On Thursday, MUJAO also claimed an attack in the northern city of Kidal where a vehicle exploded near a camp occupied by French and Chadian troops. The mountainous region between Tessalit and Kidal is strategically important, seen as a stronghold for many Tuaregs and used by rebels as a hideout from French forces.
France sent in troops on January 11 to help the Malian army oust militants who last year captured the desert north of the country. Since then, thousands of soldiers from African countries have also deployed, and France plans to start withdrawing its troops next month.
In Saturday’s statement, the MUJAO spokesman warned that future suicide attacks are planned in Mali’s capital as well as in the capitals of Burkina Faso and Niger, whose troops are part of the African force in Mali.