/ 21 July 2009

Spain to help Mali battle al-Qaeda

Spain plans to help Mali fight al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is active in the desert north of the West African nation, Mali’s president’s office announced on Tuesday.

”Security cooperation between Spain and Mali will be extended to intelligence in order to step up the pressure on circles that encourage terrorism,” said an official statement.

The announcement followed a visit to Bamako by Spain’s Interior Minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, and added that Madrid had agreed to finance a police training college in Mali.

Rubalcaba had talks on Monday with Mali’s President Amadou Toumani Toure, who has also firmed up ties with regional countries, jointly to tackle the threat from AQIM.

According to Mali’s army, dozens of people were killed on July 4 during clashes in the Timbuktu region between the army and AQIM fighters.

And on June 17, the Malian army announced that it had killed 26 ”Islamist fighters” in the far north of the country.

AQIM, which grew out of an Algerian armed extremist group, has extended its activities beyond Algeria, pressing southwards and occasionally talking Western hostages.

In recent months, AQIM has taken four European tourists and two Canadian diplomats hostage in Mali and neighbouring Niger. All have been released, except for a British tourist, Edwin Dyer, who was executed.

Spain hosts a large Malian immigrant community.

Toure and Rubalcaba discussed measures to tackle clandestine immigration, the report released on Tuesday said, while the Spanish minister flew on from Bamako to Senegal. — Sapa-AFP