Belmokhtar group threatens more attacks in Niger

The jihadist group led by Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar that claimed twin suicide car bombings in Niger which killed at least 20 people threatened on Friday to launch further attacks in the country.

"We will launch further operations" in Niger, the group said in a statement posted on Islamist Internet forums that also threatened France and countries involved militarily in battling Islamist extremists in neighbouring Mali.

Belmokhtar's group, the "Signatories in Blood", said in the statement that Thursday's attacks were its "first response to the statement of the president of Niger (Mahamadou Issoufou), from his masters in Paris that he had crushed the jihad and mujahedeen militarily" in the region.

The group threatened more attacks and even to "bring the fight to the interior of his country unless he withdraws his mercenary army" from Mali.

"We thank God that France only won a propaganda victory with its Crusader war on the rule of sharia (Islamic law)," the group added, saying that its withdrawal from towns in northern Mali during the French intervention "was a military choice imposed by the the circumstances of war and our desire to preserve the blood of Muslims".

France "is trying to flee to leave mercenary armies in its place," the group said in reference to the progressive withdrawal of French forces and their replacement by troops from African countries.

"We warn all countries intending to take part in the Crusader campaign in our land, even in the name of peacekeeping, that we will make you taste the heat of death and wounds in your homes and among your soldiers," the group added.

The group warned that "columns of commandos and those seeking martyrdom are ready and waiting for their targets."

On Thursday, a spokesman for Belmokhtar said the Algerian jihadist commander had "supervised" the suicide bombings that targeted the Nigerien army and a uranium mine in northern Arlit that is majority-owned by France's Areva, Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar reported.

El-Hassen Ould Khalil, spokesman for Belmokhtar's group, said the near-simultaneous bombings "targeted elite French forces" who were providing security at the uranium mine.

"More than 10 fighters took part in these attacks," the spokesman told the press agency, adding that they were jointly led with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa.

MUJAO, one of the extremist groups that seized control of northern Mali last year before being pushed out by French-led troops, had earlier claimed the bombings.

The attacks in Niger on Thursday came four months after Belmokhtar's group, which is linked to Al-Qaeda, seized a desert gas plant in neighbouring Algeria in a siege that left 38 hostages dead, also in retaliation for the intervention in Mali.

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