As Niger and French forces intervened to end the hostage-taking operation at a military base in Agadez in the Niger desert, which was struck by two suicide bombs killing 26 people, the Algerian commander of the Signed in Blood Brigade, Mokhtar Belmokhtar — known as Khaled Abou El Abbas or Laaouar, and who had previously been pronounced dead — threatened to launch more attacks on Niger, France and other countries that have participated since Jan. 11, 2013, in the military campaign in Mali.
The recent operations in Niger reveal that some members affiliated with Islamist groups in Mali actually withdrew to neighboring countries. According to security sources, thousands of them left for Niger and Chad and a few members headed to Algeria, Libya and Mauritania.
A statement published on a Mauritanian news website by the brigade that attacked the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria in January indicated that “Belmokhtar personally approved the joint operation between the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa and the Islamist Masked Brigade against military and economic targets in Niger.” Yet this could not be verified, given that intelligence agencies in the region did not confirm whether Belmokhtar was dead or alive, while the Chadian army announced that he was killed a few weeks ago with Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a field commander of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The statement added: “The two attacks in Niger were launched in response to the statement of Niger’s president (Mahamadou Issoufou) who claimed to have crushed the mujahedeen by military means. We will launch further operations and bring the fight to the interior of his country, unless he withdraws his mercenary army from Mali. We will also attack all countries intending to participate in the ‘Crusader campaign’ on our territory. Convoys of guerrillas and suicide bombers are ready. They are watching their targets and awaiting orders.”
The spokesman for the Masked Brigade, Al-Hassan Ould A'Khalil, also known as “Jalbib”, said that the two operations in northern Niger targeting the military base in Agadez and a uranium mine owned by the French company Areva in Arlit, were named after the commander “Abou Zeid,” which represents the first official confirmation of the news of his death. Moreover, the spokesman said that the attacks were carried out by a mix of Sudanese, Sahrawi and Malian fighters.
Furthermore, the French Ministry of Defense announced that the operation to free French officer cadets taken hostage in Agadez, Niger, led to the death of at least two terrorists and hostage-takers.
In this respect, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that France’s forces had intervened at the request of Niger’s president. Le Drian stressed that neither northern Niger nor any part of Chad should turn into an Islamist stronghold, as was the case in northern Mali last year, describing the situation in the Sahel region as “unstable.”
Moreover, French President Francois Hollande said, “Our interests were directly affected in Arlit and we were forced to help Niger’s army in Agadez, since its soldiers were cowardly assassinated for having supported our military intervention in Mali.”
“This is further evidence that our fight against terrorism is a fight in which all countries have to take part, as they share the same values with us,” said Hollande.
In New York, the UN Security Council condemned the attacks in Niger, demanding that the perpetrators be referred to the judiciary and cooperation by all states with Niger’s authorities in this respect. The Security Council confirmed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations is one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.