Two rebel groups have seized control of the northern half of Mali and announced Saturday that they had joined forces and declared an independent Islamic state.
The Tuareg MNLA — a secular group — and the Islamist group Ansar Dine, both of which had been occupying northern Mali, reached the deal after a series of talks, reported CNN. Gunfire was heard in the towns of Gao and Timbuktu as the militants celebrated their decision to form a body to oversee the region, which they call Azawad.
"The Ansar Dine movement and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad [Tuareg MNLA] proclaim their dissolution in Azawad," the two groups said in a statement sent to Agence France-Presse Saturday.
Ansar Dine's leader, Alghabass Ag Intalla, confirmed that the two movements were joining forces, according to The New York Times.
"I have just signed an accord that will see an independent and Islamic state where we have Islamic law," Ag Intalla said.
The accord was reached after weeks of heated discussions between the two movements, which have separate objectives and ideologies, reported AFP.
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"Allah has triumphed," Sanda Ould Boumama, an Ansar Dine spokesman in Timbuktu, said to AFP.
According to CNN, not everyone celebrated the new Islamic state. Some who come from the northern region said the separatist and Islamist movements do not have the people's support.