Homeland Security

Group Behind Mali Hotel Attack Unites with al-Qaeda to Fight 'Worshippers of the Cross'

The terrorist group that carried out a deadly attack in Mali a week after the Paris attacks announced that it’s formally joining al-Qaeda to fight together against “worshippers of the cross.”

On Nov. 20, English-speaking gunmen from Al-Mourabitoun stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, taking more than 100 hostages and killing 20. Among the dead were six Russians, three Chinese nationals, two Belgians and one Israeli, all staying there on business trips. American Anita Datar, who worked in development and public health, was also killed.

Al-Mourabitoun and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb confirmed afterward that they had cooperated in the attack.

Al-Mourabitoun is a young group, founded in 2013 by the merger of two AQIM splinter groups: al-Mulathamun Battalion and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. The former of those groups staged the 2013 attack on an Algerian gas facility that killed 38 workers. Three Americans were among the dead.

Some Al-Mourabitoun members have wanted an ISIS alliance this year, but leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian, said the group’s governing council would have to decide that.

“We announce the joining of our brothers and loved ones in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, to stand united against the enemy Crusader occupier,” the group said in a new statement.

It comes on the heels of an AQIM statement released a week ago saying the two groups had united.

“We also call on all our brothers the mujahideen everywhere to unite under the word of Tawheed [monotheism in Islam], and stand together against worshipers of the cross,” Al-Mourabitoun continued.

The Obama administration has said little about the Mali attack, with the most recent comments from the State Department stressing that Malian authorities were still investigating.

“Whether it’s this al-Qaeda-affiliated group or some group that’s doing this completely separate and distinct from al-Qaeda, I don’t know. And I wouldn’t begin to try to speak for their motives. It’s obviously reprehensible, and we’re going to work with Malian authorities to the degree that they want our help and assistance in helping in the investigation and any other way that they can use help to bring these people to justice,” State Department press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Nov. 20.

“But it should be also no secret to anybody that al-Qaeda offshoots continue to exist and to metastasize in Africa and in the Levant and in the Middle East… that’s why we’re working so hard in the international community to find ways to combat groups like this.”

Pressed on where these groups are getting financing and arms, Kirby said he “couldn’t possibly begin to answer that question.”

“We know there are multiple sources of financing and resources for groups like this. It’s regrettable, but they do have streams of revenue and obviously have the ability to attract people to their cause. That’s something that we’re working very hard to combat. But I couldn’t begin to give you the balance sheet on how this group that claims responsibility for it or any other terrorist group does that,” the spokesman said.