Mali’s main jihadist groups say they have merged with two other groups linked with al-Qaeda.
Iyad Ag-Ghali leader of Ansar Dine joined with al -Mourabitoun led by Algerian jihadist and smuggler Mokhtar Belmokhtar, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
According to reports, leaders from the three groups made the declaration in a video distributed on Thursday, and the group is now called “Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen,“which translates to “Support of Islams and Muslims”, under the stewardship of Iyad -Ag Ghali.
The merger comes as Mali continues to install long-delayed interim authorities in its troubled nothern region.
Experts say it poses the threat of increased insecurity not only in Mali, but also in neighbouring west African countries which until recently, have been relatively free of deadly attacks by extremist groups.
The groups have been responsible for deadly attacks in Mali and the larger Sahel region.
France intervened in Mali in 2013 to drive back Islamist groups that seized the northern region, but, despite that and a costly UN peace keeping presence, Islamist attacks conduct frequent attacks in the region and use it as a base for operations.