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Around 20 suspected Al-Qaeda members killed in Mali raid

Malian security forces have killed around 20 suspected Al-Qaeda followers in a raid near the Algerian border targetting a cell thought to have executed a British hostage, security sources said.

world Updated: Jun 18, 2009 13:59 IST

Malian security forces have killed around 20 suspected Al-Qaeda followers in a raid near the Algerian border targetting a cell thought to have executed a British hostage, security sources said.

Tuesday's attack in Mali's northern region was the first time the army specifically targetted Al-Qaeda members on Malian turf.

During the raid, government soldiers captured the base, a security source said, adding: "We counted 26 of the enemy killed. Some were buried by their own people in a common grave before they fled."

"It's the group of (Abdelhamid) Abou Zeid," the source said, adding: "We will continue to hunt them down."

An independent source in the north confirmed the raid but put the toll at 16.

The attack targeted Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which claims close ties to Al-Qaeda and emerged out of an Algerian radical group.

It has sought to extend its range into nations on the southern edge of the Sahara and has claimed several attacks in the region.

Two weeks ago sources in the Malian interior ministry said they would start a "ruthless battle against terrorist groups".

The hardened stance came just several days after US-based monitoring group SITE Intelligence said Al-Qaeda north African branch posted an online statement saying it killed British hostage Edwin Dyer on May 31.

The execution marked the first time that Al-Qaeda's north African branch had killed a Western hostage, observers said.

Mali reacted by announcing that cross-border patrols in conjunction with security personnel from neighbouring states, especially along the Algerian frontier, would be stepped up.

At the time Bamako officials complained of feeling somewhat trapped as Al-Qaeda takes hostages kidnapped in other countries across a desert zone that also borders Mali. When they arrive in Mali the Western countries the hostages hail from urge Mali not to use force but want them to negotiate, sources said.

Dyer was one of a group of six Westerners kidnapped by Islamic extremists in the Sahel region -- bordering the Sahara desert -- in December and January. He was captured in Niger while returning from a desert festival celebrating Tuareg culture in Mali.

Two Canadian diplomats and two European tourists were released in April and flown to the Malian capital Bamako, but Dyer and Swiss national Werner Greiner remained in captivity. Greiner is believed to still be in the hands of the kidnappers who are believed to be the group around Abou Zeid.

Abou Zeid, also known as Abib Hammadou, 43, is listed on United Nations documents as a known Al-Qaeda member. The Malian authorities have described Algerian-born Abou Zeid as violent and brutal.

He is believed to have been the right-hand man of a former leader of the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

According to security sources, the dead from Tuesday's attack include "commanders and most likely one or two of the people responsible for the death of a Malian officer killed last week in Timbuktu".

Lieutenant-Colonel Lamana Ould Bou, a senior Malian security official who played a key role in the arrest of several Al-Qaeda members in Mali, was gunned down in his living room by suspected members of the group Wednesday last week.