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Hundreds of jihadists from countries including Algeria, Tunisia, Pakistan, Sudan, Egypt and Yemen are heading to northern Mali to defend the area against an upcoming offensive by UN-backed forces, Security & Defence Agenda reports.Residents of the key cities of Timbuktu and Gao, Malian security officials and Islamist commanders all confirmed to AFP that there had been an influx of hundreds foreign fighters into the region.
A resident of Timbuktu told AFP that fighters came “armed and explained that they had come to help their Muslim brothers against the infidels.”
The UN Security Council has approved the build-up of a 6,300-strong African force—half of which will come from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the other half from the Malian army—to take control of the region.
Germany and several other EU countries will train and provide logistical support for Malian security forces. France and the U.S. will provide logistical support and have begun flying drones over the area.
Security officials are calling Mali “the new Afghanistan” and Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told NBC News that a collapse in the north could threaten Europe because of its relative proximity to the Mediterranean.
Islamic groups and Tuareg rebels took control of the France-sized region following a military coup of Mali in March. The Islamists subsequently toppled the Tuareg rebels and enacted sharia (i.e. strict Islamic law).