One of the radical Islamic groups operating in northern Mali has announced the September 1 “execution” – read murder – of an Algerian diplomat captured in the city of Gao five months ago. The diplomat was vice consul Taher Touati. The Algerian government is seeking to verify the claim that he has been murdered. The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in Western Africa (MUJAO) claims the murder took place following the expiration of its ultimatum to the Algerian government seeking the release of an imprisoned al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militant. On the same day, MUJAO seized the town of Douentza that had been held by a “secular” militia tied to the more moderate National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad. Douentza is on the paved road between Gao and Mopti and has an airfield.
Initially, MUJAO, the better known radical Islamic group Ansar Dine, and the more secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad cooperated in driving out of northern Mali the Bamako military. Since then, however, Ansar Dine and MUJAO have pushed aside more moderate elements, and the MUJAO take-over of Douentza fits that pattern.
So, too, does the apparently cold-blooded murder of an Algerian diplomat. MUJAO appears to be a split-off of AQIM, which has had its primary focus on overthrowing the Algiers government and has resorted to kidnapping for ransom and murder in the past. But, the nature of the relationship between Ansar Dine, MUJAO, and AQIM is unclear. At the very least, however, the three are separate organizations but appear to cooperate.