Jihadist alliance claims Mali attack that killed 11 soldiers

Nouakchott - A jihadist alliance uniting Malian insurgents loyal to Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for an attack that killed 11 soldiers close to Mali's border with Burkina Faso, its first such attack.

The Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) announced their merger in a video released earlier this month showing five jihadist leaders seated together, led by Iyad Ag Ghaly of Islamist organisation Ansar Dine.

Mauritania's ANI news agency, which closely tracks jihadist groups operating in the Sahel region south of the Sahara, late on Thursday cited a GSIM spokesperson claiming responsibility for the assault on a military base in the village of Boulikessi on March 5.

It was their first operation as an alliance.

The spokesperson for the jihadist coalition also confirmed the looting of military hardware and the destruction of vehicles, adding that two of their own men were injured.

Beyond Ansar Dine, the groups who joined the merger included Al-Murabitoun, led by Algerian extremist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, and the Macina Brigades, active in central Mali.

The groups already had ties to Al-Qaeda, and some were involved in an onslaught that saw northern Mali fall out of government control in 2012.

The extremists were later expelled from the region by a French-led international military intervention.

Nonetheless large swathes of northern and central Mali continue to come under attack from jihadist groups.

The area is also seen by governments battling the jihadist threat as a launchpad for attacks against other countries in the region.

A Malian security source had previously blamed the attack on Ansarul Islam, an organisation led by Malam Ibrahim Dicko, the radical preacher from Burkina Faso who experts say wants to create an Islamist "kingdom" in the region.

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