/ 7 July 2009

Mali president announces all-out war on al-Qaeda

Mali President Amadou Toumani Toure has announced ”a total struggle against al-Qaeda” after recent deadly clashes and the execution of a British hostage, urging regional cooperation on the fight.

”This is a total struggle against al-Qaeda we’re engaged in. I mean total,” Toure told Agence France-Presse in a brief interview late on Monday.

”On the terrain, in the Sahel and Saharan strip, the Salafists and their accomplices in various traffics are our enemies.”

Toure said that a summit of regional heads of state, which has been delayed several times, would send ”a very strong signal” to all the armed bands in the Sahel, an arid territory stretching from Mauritania in the west to include southern Algeria, northern Niger and Mali.

”Our troops have high morale,” Toure said. ”But to win, we’re compelled to work together with our neighbours.”

The retired general gave no further details of a summit or of military plans, but a senior official in the security forces said on Tuesday that ”with countries like Algeria, and others, we’re preparing a large-scale operation in the Sahel-Saharan zone”. Algeria has provided Mali with military equipment, army sources said.

On Monday, Mali’s Defence Ministry announced that soldiers were caught up in deadly clashes with fighters from al-Qaeda’s North African branch in the north-west of the country.

Both sides recorded losses during clashes, which took place on Friday and Saturday, said the ministry statement, without giving precise figures.

”There were more killed in the enemy ranks than among our men,” Captain Ali Diakite of the army command at Gao, in the north, said.

On June 17, the army said it had killed 26 ”Islamist fighters” in an attack on a base belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), near the border with Algeria, near Garn-Akassa.

The operation came after Aqim’s May 31 announcement that it had executed Briton Edwin Dyer, one of six Western hostages kidnapped in the Sahel region in December and January.

The execution marked the first time that al-Qaeda’s north African branch had killed a Western hostage, observers said.

Dyer had been captured in January over the border in Niger along with three other tourists. While two other hostages have been freed, a Swiss national, Werner Greiner, is being held prisoner. — Sapa-AFP