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Islamist Militants Stream into Northern Mali Town After Victory

  • VOA News

Islamist militants are streaming into the northern Mali town of Gao, one day after ousting a Tuareg rebel group in clashes that killed at least 20 people.

The al-Qaida-linked militant group known as The Unity Movement for Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) took complete control of Gao from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) on Wednesday.

A VOA reporter said Thursday that MUJAO's black flags and banners can be seen all over the city. He reports that another militant group, Ansar Dine, has brought more than 100 fighters in Gao to support MUJAO.

The militants are patrolling the streets of Gao and witnesses say an undetermined number of MNLA members have been arrested.

Also Thursday, leaders of the Islamist militant groups MUJAO, Ansar Dine and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb held talks in Gao. It was not immediately clear what the leaders discussed.

VOA reporter Idriss Fall says the new Islamist fighters arrived by truck throughout the day.

"And even they sealed the area where all these leaders of al-Qaida, Ansar Dine and MUJAO was holding the meeting," said Fall. "But the meeting is over now and they are still in the city.”

The MNLA fought alongside Ansar Dine earlier this year to seize northern Mali from government troops.

The Tuareg group is seeking to form a separate state in northern Mali, while the Islamists want to impose a strict form of Sharia law. The two groups broke off a brief alliance after a dispute over Sharia.

Malians have been holding demonstrations in the capital, Bamako, calling for the interim government to intervene in the north.

The Malian army is struggling to reorganize after a coup in March of this year.

The Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants seized control of the north in a fast-moving offensive shortly after the coup.