BAMAKO, Oct 24 (Reuters) Algerian Islamic insurgents launched a revenge attack against a group of former Tuareg rebels in the deserts of northern Mali yesterday, killing nine of them, a Malian official said today.
The attack came a month after Tuareg fighters killed a leader of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), an Algerian rebel movement that has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda.
GSPC fighters ambushed members of the Tuareg's Democratic Alliance for Change near the village of Arouan, some 150 km (95 miles) from the desert city Kidal where Tuareg rebels launched an uprising in May to demand greater autonomy.
''There was violent fighting. The toll was nine dead, several injured and two prisoners from the ranks of the Alliance,'' the official said. He could not provide casualty figures for the GSPC.
The GSPC leader killed in September by the Tuaregs was believed to be close to Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Algerian militants' commander in the southern Sahara.
''The GSPC's strategy is clear: they want to settle a score with the leaders of the Alliance before the disarmament of its fighters, which should begin immediately,'' said the official.
In July, the Malian Tuareg rebels, who have sought greater autonomy for their desert region of northern Mali, signed a peace deal with the government in Bamako, brokered by Algeria, whose military has been seeking to stamp out the still active GSPC.
Tuareg fighters have long coexisted with the GSPC in the lawless regions of northern Mali, where they control trans-Saharan smuggling routes into north Africa. However, recent GSPC attempts to recruit Tuaregs have raised tensions between the groups.
The Tuareg are due to begin disarming this week, but Malian officials could not confirm whether the process had already begun.
The Muslim holiday of Eid, to mark the end of the Ramazan fasting season, has slowed activity across the Sahel region.
REUTERS BDP BD1908