BAMAKO (AFP) – An armed Islamist group led by an influential Tuareg rebel fighting for autonomy in northern Mali called for the national imposition of Sharia law in a video seen Tuesday by AFP.
“It is an obligation for us to fight for the application of Sharia (Islamic law) in Mali,” said Cheikh Ag Aoussa, a spokesman of the movement Ancar Dine, which means ‘Defenders of Islam’ in Arabic.
Ag Aoussa is the right-hand man of its leader Iyad Ag Ghaly, who is shown in the 13-minute video inspecting fighters and leading them in prayer.
Ag Ghaly was one of the most prominent figures of a Tuareg rebellion in the 1990s and is thought to have links with a branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which is led by his cousin Hamada Ag Hama.
Tuareg rebels, many of whom recently returned from fighting for fallen Libyan leader Muammer Gaddafi, in mid-January struck up their decades-old battle for autonomy for their nomadic desert tribe.
The video shows dead and captured soldiers after an attack on the town of Aguelhok, one of many attacked by Tuareg in violence which has led some 170,000 people to flee their homes. The movement claimed it had seized the military base.
“The Malian government has reinforced its military strength in our areas and we have decided to defend ourselves,” said Ag Aoussa, speaking in Tamashek, the language of the Tuareg.
France said some 82 soldiers and civilians had been “summarily executed” in the town, accusing the killers of adopting Al-Qaeda-style tactics.
Several sources have suggested that AQIM — which has long plagued the northern region, kidnapping westerners — has been fighting alongside the rebels, but the insurgents have denied this.
One of the captured soldiers, identifying himself as Corporal Hassan from the Gao 7th Company, says in the video: “We are 30 prisoners — two Tuareg, four Arabs, the others from the south.
“We are in the hands of Ancar Dine after the battle in Aguelhok.”
Images also showed the movement firing on a military camp which appeared to be that of Aguelhok. Inside a truck and an armoured vehicle are in flames