African jihadist group al-Murabitun joins ranks with al Qaeda

North African jihadist group al-Murabitun has declared its allegiance to al Qaeda, swelling the ranks of that terror group in its rivalry with ISIS for African adherents.

“We declare that we are joining to our brothers in al Qaeda organization in Islamic Maghreb to stand in one line against the occupying crusaders,” said al-Murabitun spokesman Abu Dujana Al Qasmi in an audio message.

Al-Murabitun claimed responsibility for last month’s attack in at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, where officials had gathered to iron out a deal aimed at addressing the rebellion and unrest plaguing that nation. Gunmen sprayed bullets at gathered around tables for breakfast, shooting at “anything that moved” as patrons dashed for cover, hotel employee Tamba Couye said.

Nineteen people died in that massacre.

The same group has been linked to other attacks as well, including one in March on a Bamako barpopular with expatriates. Five people were killed in that attack.

According to the U.S. government’s counterterrorism guide, al-Murabitun is itself the product of the August 2013 merger of two groups — the al-Mulathamun Battalion led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Al-Tawhid Wal Jihad in West Africa. (Belmokhtar was targeted in a U.S. airstrike in Libya, though it’s not clear if he survived.)

Those two groups were both considered al Qaeda offshoots, so this week’s announcement appears to bring its militants full circle.

It also signals that al Qaeda is growing in Africa at the same time ISIS — which made its name for itself by capturing swaths of Syria and Iraq but has also claimed armed adherents elsewhere — has made inroads on the continent.

ISIS has said it’s behind beheadings and other atrocities in North Africa. It’s also taken in others accused on their own of horrific deeds, the most high-profile being the fealty of Nigeria-based Boko Haram — in a pledge by its leader, Abubakar Shekau — to ISIS.

And in October, Abdul Qadir Mumin — a high-ranking member and spiritual leader of the Somalia-based terror group Al-Shabaab — and other militants in the same group offered allegiance to ISIS in a video.

Islamist extremism rears its heads across Africa