Updated Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 06:10 AM
One wing of Mali's Ansar Dine rebel group has split off to create its own movement, saying that they want to negotiate a solution to the crisis in Mali in a declaration that indicates at least some of the members of the al-Qaida-linked group are searching for an exit in the wake of French airstrikes.
Former Ansar Dine leader Alghabass Ag Intalla said in a statement, published Thursday by French radio RFI, that the group will be called the Islamic Movement for the Azawad, a Tuareg term for northern Mali. Intalla said the group is looking for a "negotiated solution," and he added that his men are willing to fight their former comrades-in-arms in Ansar Dine.
An elected official from Kidal, who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisal, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the split was a long time coming and reflects the fact that Ansar Dine, which took over the northern city of Kidal, succeeded in enlisting large numbers of fighters and coopting local authorities for economic and political reasons rather than ideological ones. Among them, he said, is Intalla, who is the heir to the traditional ruler of Kidal, and who is not believed to be a radical Muslim.
"They never believed in this ideology. Now they are running for the exits," said the official, who spoke by telephone.
The split is indicative of possible disarray within the ranks of the Islamist groups which seized control of northern Mali more than nine months ago. French President Francois Hollande authorized a military intervention two weeks ago and fighter jets have pounded rebel training camps, arms depots and bases. Since then, the Islamists appear to have fled from the cities, although they still remain firmly in control of much of northern Mali, likely using their desert bases and the area's natural topography, including cave systems in the Kidal region.
Associated Press writer Baba Ahmed contributed to this report.