A Malian jihadist leader said a suicide attack on UN forces that killed two Senegalese troops on Saturday in northern Mali was in retaliation for African countries' support of the French army's operation against Islamist militants.
"I speak in the name of all the mujahedeen (fighters) in Azawad (northern Mali): this operation is a response to African countries that have sent soldiers to support (French President) Francois Hollande's battle in the land of Islam," said Sultan Ould Badi, a well-known Islamist extremist who has been part of several armed groups.
"We are going to respond all across Azawad and in other lands... with other operations against France's crusades," he told AFP by phone.
A member of northern Mali's Arab and Tuareg minority groups, Sultan Ould Badi rose to prominence kidnapping European hostages in the region and selling them on to armed Islamist groups.
He later joined Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and was close to one of the group's top commanders, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, who was killed fighting the French army in northern Mali in late February.
Afterwards he joined another Al-Qaeda-linked group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), before launching his own small radical group.
He acts as an intermediary between the various jihadist groups operating in northern Mali, according to a Malian security source.
The attack in the northern city of Kidal targeted soldiers in the United Nations' MINUSMA peacekeeping force who were guarding a local bank. A suicide bomber ploughed his explosives-laden car into the building, killing two soldiers and wounding several others.
The attack came the day before Mali holds second-round legislative elections meant to complete its return to democracy after a March 2012 coup that unleashed a crisis that saw Al-Qaeda-linked groups seize the northern half of the country until a French-led operation launched in January drove them out.