Islamist groups have gained much control in Mali, especially in the northern region of the country which has in fact become an enclave for jihadist groups including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). These Islamist militant groups have imposed a strict Shariah law in areas under their control. In January 2013, these militants launched a take-over attack towards south which was then handled by the French troops because the Malian military had not done much to stop the attack. Mali is a former French colony and borders with Algeria.
There is also a wide speculation of the fact that the military attack on Mali is yet another attempt of taking over a country rich in its natural resources with petroleum being one of them. The country could provide a strategic route to the Western/European markets mainly through Algeria.
On January 16, 2013, a gas facility in In Amenas, a town and municipality in Algeria, was attacked by a group of Islamists. The four day siege left more than sixty hostages and militants dead including a total of thirty seven workers, according to the Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal.
The government of Algeria initially denied any connection of the attack with Mali, however, later confirmed that the attackers were from northern Mali including a Canadian citizen
The conflict in Mali and the Saharan siege is said to be linked through a common militant connection. The gas plant attack had been conducted by a related faction of AQIM, named ‘Signed in Blood Batallion’, loyal to Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who claimed the responsibility of the attack. Belmokhtar is a veteran militant who was with the extremist rebel group which lost the Algerian Civil War in the 1990s against the then government.
The siege of the gas facility in In Amenas was said to be a reaction of the French military intervention in Mali by the attackers. This fact serves as a possible link between the two events. It was also described as retaliation towards the government of Algeria, which had granted airspace to France and had closed down its borders to Malian refugees. The militants also demanded the release of several Islamists imprisoned in Algerian jails.
Weapons used in the Algerian offensive were reportedly the ones used by the Libyan army during Muammar Gaddafi’s rule. This provides yet another connection to a country sharing its border with Algeria and further strengthening the doubts regarding the militant connection between these three countries.
The northern African countries such as Mali, Algeria and Libya have somewhat perforated borders therefore the exchange of weapons and ideologies is rather fluid in this region. The attack on the In Amenas gas plant, therefore, has a possible connection with the French intrusion in Mali.