KINSHASA The merger of Mali's main jihadist groups earlier this month was endorsed on Friday by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), whose leader rallied other jihadist organisations to follow suit and "achieve unity".
The SITE Intelligence Group quoted AQIM's Abu Musab Abdul Wadud congratulating the groups for joining forces under the command of veteran Islamist Iyad Ag-Ghali.
Ag-Ghali's Ansar Dine, the Massina Brigades, AQIM's al-Mourabitoun and an offshoot of al Qaeda's north African wing announced on March 2 that they had joined to form a new group called Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen.
The various groups have claimed responsibility for repeated attacks on Malian, French and U.N. peacekeeping forces in recent years but are seen as fragmented and often in competition with one another.
SITE, which monitors statements by extremist groups, said AQIM's al-Andalus Media Foundation posted audio of the speech by AQIM leader Wadud on Telegram and Twitter.
"I take this opportunity to call on all jihadi groups to follow the example of their brothers in the Sahel and the Sahara, and to hasten to join together and achieve unity," SITE quoted Wadud as saying.
France intervened in Mali in 2013 to drive back Islamist groups that seized the desert north a year earlier, but despite that and a costly U.N. peacekeeping presence, militants conduct frequent attacks in northern Mali and use it as a base for operations in neighbouring countries.
Al-Mourabitoun, led by Algerian jihadist and smuggler Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on a military camp in northern Mali that killed up to 60 people and wounded more than 100 in January.
(Reporting By Aaron Ross; Editing by Joe Bavier and Toby Davis)