According to reports out of Mauritania’s News Agency, the two largest jihadist factions in Mali have decided to merge operations in an attempt to recover the substantial territorial influence they had in 2012 and 2013, before the French invasion.
Ansar Dine was a faction in the Tuareg rebellion in 2012, though unlike the rebel factions seeking Tuareg independence, Ansar Dine sought to use their influence to try to take over all of Mali and convert the entire nation into a rigid theocracy.
They will be merging with al-Mourabitoun, which is run by long-time al-Qaeda figure Mokhtar Belmokhtar. The group is stronger region-wide, but aims in particular to grow in Mali, and like Ansar Dine, is eager to impose a strict interpretation of Sharia law on the region.
According to the reports, the merger was announced on an Islamist website frequented by followers of the respective movements. There has been no confirmation beyond that, and it’s not uncommon for such claimed mergers to fall apart after an announcement.
Still, it takes sense in this case, as the two groups are ideologically similar, and competing with one-another in the wake of the French invasion of Mali has ended up with neither group having much territory or influence left.