Afghans, Pakistanis training Islamists in Mali: Niger
Jihadi fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan are training Islamist groups in northern Mali, Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou told France 24 television on Thursday.
"We have information on the presence of Afghans and Pakistanis in northern Mali... They are believed to be working as instructors," he told the French news channel.
"They are the ones who are training those who have been recruited across various African countries," said Issoufou, whose country shares a long and porous desert border with Mali.
Mali, once considered a beacon of democracy in western Africa, has plunged into chaos since the collapse of Moamer Kadhafi's regime in Libya last year scattered mercenaries and weapons across the Sahel.
Tuareg rebels rekindled their decades-old struggle for independence in January and conquered the entire northern half of Mali virtually unopposed after renegade soldiers in the south toppled the regime in March.
The Tuareg rebels fought alongside a previously unknown Islamist group called Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), which is believed to be backed by Al Qaeda's north African branch.
Government troops have no control over Mali's north, a territory larger than France, heightening fears in the region and beyond that the landlocked country could become a new global haven for Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been active for years in northern Mali, where it has launched attacks against government army positions, kidnapped foreigners and allegedly benefitted from drug running.
© 2012 AFP