Ansar al Din (“Defenders of the Faith”)
The two main Islamic militant movements operating in northern Mali are Ansar al Din (“Defenders of the Faith”) and Jama’at Tawhid Wal Jihad fi Garbi Afriqqiya (“Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa,” or MUJWA). Mali's main jihadist groups said on 02 March 2017 they would merge under Islamist leader Iyad Ag-Ghali. Ag-Ghali's Ansar Dine would join with al-Mourabitoun, led by Algerian jihadist and smuggler Mokhtar Belmokhtar, into one organization called Nusrat-ul-Islam [meaning in Arabic "aid", "assistance" or "victory" of Islam].
The Massina Brigades, a central Malian group mostly staffed by Fulani herders, and an offshoot of al-Qaida's north African wing called the Sahara Emirat, would join the merged entity. The newly formed group pledged allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah, al-Qaida leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri and the leader of al-Qaida's north African franchise Abu Musab Abdul Wadud.
Ansar al Din was formed at the end of 2011 by Iyad Ag Ghali, a former Tuareg rebel leader, who is often described as a pragmatic opportunist.
Ansar Dine released a statement expressing its "utmost surprise" at the announcement by the head of the West African nation's top Islamic authority, according to a report by the SITE monitoring group late on 02 November 2016. Mahmoud Dicko, president of Mali's High Islamic Council, had said a day earlier that he had received news from Ansar Dine's Tuareg commander Iyad Ag Ghali that it would halt attacks that have killed dozens of civilians, soldiers and UN peacekeepers.
Ansar Dine and other Islamist groups intensified their insurgency in Mali, carrying out more than 60 attacks on U.N. and other targets since May 2016 and spreading south into areas previously deemed safe. The groups took over a separatist Tuareg rebellion in 2012 to seize major towns in Mali's vast desert north and declare sharia, or Islamic law.
Ansar Dine and the Tuareg separatist group MNLA agreed to a ceasefire with the government on 21 December 2012. The truce came a day after the UN Security Council approved a West African plan to deploy troops to Mali, with the goal of retaking the north from Ansar Dine and two other Islamist groups. Islamist group Ansar Dine suspended the ceasefire with the government, saying officials are gearing up for war. In a statement posted to its website, on 05 December 2012 Ansar Dine said it was willing to hold talks but says Mali's government has not shown "the least bit of sincere will for peace and negotiation." The group accused the government of buying arms, recruiting fighters, and mobilizing militias.
In late January 2013 a faction of one of the armed Islamist groups occupying the north of the Mali has split off from its al Qaeda allies and says it was willing to hold talks with the government. Alghabass Ag Intallah, a senior member of the Tuareg-led Ansar Dine group which helped seize northern Mali last year from government forces, said he had created a new organization, the Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA), and was ready to seek a negotiated solution to Mali's conflict. He said rebel demands would be for a broad autonomy rather than independence for the north.
This new Ansar Dine in Mali is not to be confused with the Ansar-Ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, which was founded on 21 December 1923. The name Ansar Dine may be taken to mean "Defenders of the Faith", but that is a bit too simple. The word "ansar" in Arabic means "helper" or "supporter", or "patron". The ansar were the first inhabitants of Medina to accept Islam, and later any of those who supported Muhammad after he began his preaching. But the ansar were also the Muslim warriors in the centuries immediately after the time the Prophet of who were renowned for their weapons and speed and mobility on the battlefield, either mounted as cavalry or on foot.
The word 'deen' [also seen as din or dine] and the word Islam are mentioned many times in the Quran. “This day, I have perfected your Deen for you, completed my favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your Deen” (5:3) Whenever Allah speaks about His Path, Way or Belief-System, He refers to it as the deen. Wherever a partisan allegiance is spoken of, it is referred to as "hizb", "shiat" etc. The deen approved by Allah has been referred to by two names in the Quran; one is the "Deen-e-Hanifan", and the other is "Al-Islam". The Holy Quran describes Islam as Deen al-Haq, or the true way of life.
The word deen is used in the Arabic language with various meanings. A deen is a submission, following and worship. Deen is a system of life in which human beings consciously surrender themselves to the sovereignty of a higher authority, and live a life of total obedience under the system of that higher authority, in order to gain rewards from it and to save themselves from its punishment. Thus it is wrong to translate it to the English with the word "religion".
In July 2012, U.S. Africa Command Commander General Carter F. Ham participated in a press conference in Dakar, Senegal. General Ham said "The relationship between the various groups is, in our assessment, very, very complex. We believe that the most dominant organization is AQIM. We think they are they - we think they are al-Qaida's best-funded, wealthiest affiliate. The relationship between AQIM and Ansar Dine is one that is - frankly, is difficult for us really to understand whether it is an arrangement of mutual interests or whether they are really closely ideologically aligned. But I believe AQIM and Ansar Dine do have very different goals than the more politically oriented Tuareg groups or Azawad groups such as MNLA. The harshness that AQIM and Ansar Dine have applied to the people of northern Mali I think is indicative that - of this friction between the populace and these extremist organizations."
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