NOUAKCHOTT - An Al-Qaeda-linked group which shocked the world with its audacious hostage attack in Algeria threatened on Sunday to stage strikes on nations involved in chasing out Islamists from neighbouring Mali.
The stern warning, published by the Mauritanian news agency ANI, appeared to be targeted at France -- which is leading the offensive in Mali against jihadists occupying the north -- as well as nine African nations that have pledged troops to join the campaign, and anyone else helping out.
"We promise more operations in all the countries which have taken part in the crusade against Azawad if they do not review their decision," the "Signatories in Blood" group said in a statement, referring to northern Mali.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed Islamist who formed his own brigade after a series of bitter feuds saw him cut ties with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, masterminded the attack on an Algerian gas plant that ended in scores dying.
"We remind our Muslim brothers of the need to clear out from sites run by foreign companies, especially the French ones, to save their lives," the statement said.
The group said it had tried to negotiate with the Algerian army to seek an "immediate end to the aggression against Muslims in Mali and the liberation of our brothers being held by the crusaders."
It added: "But the Algerian army did not respond, ... preferring to stage an attack which led to the elimination of the hostages."
Islamist militants and Tuareg separatist groups seized Mali's vast desert north in March last year. The two sides then had a falling out and the Islamists have since gained the upper hand.
France has been leading a military campaign in Mali for over a week to halt the Islamists' push southwards into government-controlled territory.