NOUAKCHOTT - The jihadist group of notorious one-eyed Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State organisation, according to an audio recording broadcast by private Mauritanian agency Al-Akhbar.
Belmokhtar's Al-Murabitoun group, which is active in north Africa, was linked to Al-Qaeda, but the recording attributed to one of its leading members said it was now aligning itself with the IS organisation.
"The Al-Murabitoun movement pledges its allegiance to the caliph of Muslims Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (IS leader), thereby banishing divisions and dissent within the (Muslim community)," according to the recording.
The Mauritanian news agency, which regularly publishes statements by jihadists, had earlier identified the voice in the recording as that of Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui. It also claimed that Sahraoui was now the new leader of the group.
But an agency spokesman later told AFP that Sahraoui did not personally read out the message, although it was read out by someone on his behalf.
The official said it was clear that Sahraoui had become the group's leader since only the chief has the right to sign such a declaration.
An AFP journalist familiar with the militant also said the voice did not correspond to that of Sahraoui, who could not be reached immediately for comment.
In the recording, the militant also called on "all jihadist movements to pledge allegiance" to Baghdadi, self-proclaimed caliph of IS, in order to "speak with one voice".
Al-Murabitoun's apparent decision to align with the IS group came just two months after a similar move by Boko Haram -- the jihadist militants wreaking havoc in northern Nigeria.
IS sprang to worldwide prominence in June last year when it overran large parts of Iraq and Syria, declaring a "caliphate" in the territory under its control.
Several local jihadist groups quickly affiliated themselves, and IS has since received pledges of fealty from extremist outfits from as far afield as Algeria, Afghanistan and Indonesia.
Although the jihadist group has since been pushed back militarily by US-led air strikes and a counter-offensive by Iraqi security forces and militias, IS remains a potent draw for would-be recruits.