Al-Murabitoun: Al-Qaeda affiliate behind string of attacks in west Africa

Al-Murabitoun: Al-Qaeda affiliate behind string of attacks in west Africa

BAMAKO - An al-Qaeda affiliate run by one of the world's most-wanted men, Algeria's Mokhtar Belmokhtar, was behind Friday's attack on a hotel and restaurant popular with Westerners in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou, a regional franchise of the extremist network said.

The attack, in which at least 23 people were killed, is the latest in a string of assaults by the notorious Belmokhtar's Al-Murabitoun group across north and west Africa in recent years.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said that Al-Murabitoun was behind the attack on the four-star Splendid hotel and nearby Cappuccino restaurant, which are popular with Western nationals as well as French and UN forces stationed in the area. The victims were of 18 different nationalities, security sources said.

Al-Murabitoun, which operates across the Sahara Desert, also claimed an attack on the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Bamako in November, in which 20 people were killed, 14 of them foreigners.

AQIM said that attack was a joint operation by its forces and those of Al-Murabitoun.

Al-Murabitoun later announced it was joining forces with AQIM, according to US-based jihadist monitoring service SITE.

AQIM said this weekend's attack in Burkina Faso, a country that had until now been largely spared terrorist attacks, was "revenge against France and the disbelieving West", SITE said.

France and its allies have been a prime target for attack by west African jihadist groups since France intervened militarily in Mali in 2013 to root out AQIM and other jihadist groups from the country's desert north.


Al-Murabitoun was born in 2013 from the fusion of one of those groups, MUJAO, and Belmokhtar's Al-Qaeda splinter group "Signatories in Blood".

Earlier that year, Belmokhtar's group was blamed for the bloody siege of a remote Algerian gas plant in which around 40 hostages, mainly Westerners, were killed.

Four months later, MUJAO and Belmokhtar's men jointly claimed a double suicide attack in northern Niger that killed 25 people, mainly soldiers.

Dubbed "Mr Malboro" for his involvement in trans-Saharan cigarette smuggling in the past, the one-eyed Belmokhtar, who reportedly lost his left eye fighting in Afghanistan in the 1990s, has been reported killed several times in counter-terrorism operations.

Each time, the death of the man who took up arms alongside the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) during Algeria's civil war of the 1990s, has been denied.

An audio recording attributed to another leading member of Al-Murabitoun pledged allegiance to the Islamic State jihadist group in May 2015.

But Belmokhtar reportedly quickly distanced himself from the declaration, vowing allegiance to IS's jihadist rival Al-Qaeda in what was seen as a sign of an internal power struggle.

In March 2015, Al-Murabitoun claimed responsibility for the first attack on Westerners in the Malian capital.

Three Malians, one French national and a Belgian were killed in the nightclub attack.

Last year also saw the group make its first foray into neighbouring Burkina Faso, where it claimed the abduction in April of a Romanian who was responsible for security in a mine in the country's north.

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