As reported by The Trentinonian Most of the rebels who took over the central town for five days this month were Malian and spoke the local languages of the north and the south. However their leaders were different, local residents said. "They were speaking Arabic".
Six bodyguards protected the most senior commander with the gray-speckled beard and black turban. The Islamist militant ate Algerian-made spaghetti and Mauritanian-made canned tomato sauce. Malian fighters only served as his translators or brought him intelligence reports.
“The Arabic speakers were in charge,” recalled Moussa Sangire, 71, a retired soldier who lived next to a house taken over by a group of foreign fighters.
What began as a home-grown, Malian-led rebellion is now firmly entrenched as a conflict directed by al-Qaida’s West and North Africa wing, mostly foreign fighters from Algeria and Mauritania, according to western diplomats, Malian military officials and analysts.
As French and Malian forces advance in northern Mali, they are learning more about the rebels who have held this Texas-sized swath of territory for months, mostly out of view of outsiders. Diabaly, briefly held by the militants, has now changed hands and offers a small window into the leadership of the jihadists.
They are an enemy that appears determined to broaden the conflict into a wider struggle against the West. The first reaction by the insurgents to the French forces’ takeover of parts of the town of Gao on Saturday came from a top regional al-Qaida leader, published on the Arabic website of the Al Jazeera television network. He vowed to resist what he described as a “new Crusader aggression,” adding that a “jihadist Islamist emirate” would be created in northern Mali.
“It seems that these groups are being led by AQIM,” said Bertrand Soret, chief political adviser to the European Union delegation in Mali, referring to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. “The tactical backbone of the rebels is more influenced by AQIM.”