‘Masked Batallion’ Leader Warns of War in Sahel

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a member of the "Masked Batallion" in Mali and a former leader of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, warns of the consequences of a war in the Sahel region, reports Atef Kadadra.

al-monitor French nationals Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, taken hostage Nov. 24, 2011, are seen surrounded by masked men holding assault rifles in an undisclosed location in Mali, in this undated photo taken from a video recording. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Photo distributed Nov. 13, 2011. Photo by REUTERS/Agence Nouakchott Informations/Handout.

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al-qaeda in the islamic maghreb, al-qaeda, aqim

Nov 29, 2012

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a terrorist and former leader of the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb organization (AQIM), warned against what he called ''the impossibility of controlling the limits and results of a war in the region."

Belmokhtar spoke as the leader of the “Masked Battalion,” despite reports he had been isolated from the movement’s leadership. He said his battalion would respect any possible agreement between Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) regarding the application of Shariah law.

Belmokhtar, also known as Khaled Abu Abbas, said that the Masked Battalion has throughout its history adopted the principle of “impartiality whenever possible.”

In an interview with the independent Mauritanian news agency AMI, Belmokhtar said that “stopping the war before it starts is possible, but controlling its limits, results and implications is impossible.”

Belmokhtar spoke as the leader of the Masked Battalion. This gives rise to further ambiguity regarding his relationship with al-Qaeda's leadership in the Sahel region, knowing that a decision was issued to remove him from the leadership of the Masked Battalion.

Belmokhtar, whose interviewer said they met in Gao in northern Mali, said that the coming days “will reveal more details and show his group’s clear position on the war and the methods that they will adopt to repel aggression.”

According to excerpts from the interview published by AMI on its website, Belmokhtar quoted an African diplomat as saying to a European diplomat: “You fought in Afghanistan with the whole world by your side for a decade before you demanded dialogue with Taliban, despite the large losses incurred during all this period. So why are you imposing the same path on us now, why don't you learn from your mistakes in Asia and avoid making them again in Africa?”

He asked these questions in reference to the decision to support military intervention in northern Mali.

Belmokhtar said that the Masked Battalion would respect any option agreed upon by Ansar Dine, MUJAO and the tribes, that called for the application of Shariah law, unless such an option goes against any of the principles of Shariah.

He added, “We will help and support them — be it at war or during times of peace.”

In a related context, Mauritanian sources said that fighters from Ansar Dine took control yesterday [Nov. 28] of the city of Lira, which is the closest city to the Mauritanian border with Mali. Several days ago, this city witnessed clashes between Ansar Dine supporters and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).

An official said that Ansar Dine persuaded MNLA to join it. Moreover,  Ansar Dine reportedly destroyed yesterday 200 bags of contraband cigarettes discovered in two vehicles coming from Burkina Faso and heading to Algeria.

Elements of the organization burned the bags, in line with the decision announced weeks ago by the movement's leader, Iyad Ag Ghali, prohibiting the smuggling of any cigarettes or drugs in the area controlled by the movement. He gave smugglers a deadline of two weeks to leave the area.

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