Belmokhtar group claims Niger blasts, says planning more attacks

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The jihadist group led by Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar that claimed twin suicide car bombings in Niger that killed at least 20 people threatened on Friday to launch further attacks in the country.

“We will launch further operations” in Niger, AFP reported the group as saying in a statement posted on Islamist Internet forums. It also threatened France and countries involved militarily in battling Islamist extremists in Mali.

Belmokhtar, meanwhile, “supervised” twin suicide bombings that killed at least 20 people in Niger on Thursday, AFP reported the Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar as saying.

“It was Belmokhtar who himself supervised the operational plans of attacks” on the Agadez army base and a French-run uranium mine, El-Hassen Ould Khalil, spokesman for Belmokhtar’s “Signatories in Blood” group, was quoted as saying.

He said the near-simultaneous bombings “targeted elite French forces” that were providing security at the uranium mine in northern Arlit that is majority-owned by France’s Areva.

“More than 10 fighters took part in these attacks,” the spokesman told the online press agency, adding that they were jointly led with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa.

Extremist group was in Mali

MUJAO, one of the extremist groups that seized control of northern Mali last year before being driven out by French-led troops, had earlier claimed the bombings.

“Thanks to Allah, we have carried out two operations against the enemies of Islam in Niger,” MUJAO spokesman Abu Walid Sahraoui told AFP.

The “Signatories in Blood” spokesman, who also goes by the alias “Julaibib,” said the deadly operations were carried out in the name of top Al-Qaeda operative Abou Zeid, killed in fighting led by the French army in the Ifoghas mountains in northern Mali in late February.

Belmokhtar, a former leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, left that group late last year to create “Signatories in Blood.”

The attacks on Thursday come just four months after Al-Qaeda linked militants seized a desert gas plant in neighboring Algeria in a siege that left 38 hostages dead, also in retaliation against the intervention in Mali.

In January when France scrambled war planes over Mali and sent in thousands of ground troops to try to take back the country’s Al-Qaeda-held north, the extremists vowed to hit back not just at French interests, but also at the African governments that helped them.

The bomb blasts on Thursday are the most damaging attacks by the Mali-based jihadists to date. They succeeded in hitting both an important French asset and the military of Niger, which sent 650 troops to Mali to help France combat the Islamists.

On Thursday, French President Francois Hollande vowed to help Niger “destroy” the militants and a Niger security said French Special Forces were involved in efforts to end the assault.

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