KADUNA (Reuters) - An Islamist group blamed for abducting Westerners claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on Nigerian troops heading to Mali on Sunday, according to the local Desert Herald, which often publishes their claims.
Suspected Islamist gunmen opened fire on a convoy of troops leaving northern Nigeria en route to deployment with West African forces in Mali, killing two officers and wounding eight others, in Kogi state, central Nigeria.
The statement in the online newspaper said the attack was part of a mission to stop Nigerian troops joining Western powers in their “aim to demolish the Islamic empire of Mali.”
“We are warning the African countries to ... (stop) helping Western countries in fighting against Islam and Muslims or face the utmost difficulties,” said the statement by the group, whose full name Jama‘atu Ansarul Musilimina Fi Biladis Sudan means “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa”.
The attack came after a report that a veteran jihadist claimed responsibility for al Qaeda for a mass hostage-taking in Algeria, in which at least 23 hostages and 32 militants were killed, and called on France to stop air strikes in Mali.
Ansaru is one of several radical Islamist groups seen as the leading security threat to Africa’s top energy producer.
Dubbed a terrorist organization by Britain, it has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a French national last month, citing France’s ban on full-face veils and its support for military action in Mali as reasons for the abduction.
Thought to be a breakaway from Islamist sect Boko Haram, it has risen to greater prominence over the past few months. Unlike better-known Boko Haram, it seems to have a much more thorough focus on global jihad, rather than a domestic political agenda.
It also said it was behind a dawn raid on a major police station in the Nigerian capital in November, in which it said hundreds of prisoners were released.
Security sources suspect it was behind the kidnap and killing of a Briton and an Italian in northwest Nigeria, and of a German in the north’s main city of Kano, last year.
Western governments are increasingly concerned about Islamists in Nigeria linking up with groups outside the region, including al Qaeda’s north African wing, whom allied French and West African forces are on a mission to dislodge from Mali.
Veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed responsibility in the name of al Qaeda for last week’s hostage taking at a gas plant near the Algerian town of In Amenas, Mauritanian news website Sahara Media said on Sunday, citing a video. Suspected Islamist gunmen opened fire on the convoy of one of Nigeria’s most senior Islamic leaders in the northern city of Kano on Saturday, killing four people.
Reporting by Isaac Abrak; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Jason Webb