Ansar Dine — Arabic for Supporters of Islam — was formed at the end of last year and joined the Tuareg rebel group in chasing government forces out of the north, but Ansar Dine now says that it is against north Mali becoming independent.
Western diplomats in Bamako, the capital, say Ansar Dine has links with AQIM, which has kidnapped Europeans and attacked government forces in Mali and beyond. Senior leaders from AQIM have been seen openly in towns in north Mali since Ansar Dine gained some control of them. Diplomats say that fighters sometimes move between the two groups.
Another group that is less well known than AQIM, and may be a spinoff from that group, is the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, which has also been bringing Shariah law to north Mali.
Mali has also been battling insecurity in the capital, Bamako. A group of soldiers toppled Mali's democratically elected president in March. The junta leaders then handed power over to an interim government in April, but have not stepped aside. Last week, some soldiers attempted a countercoup, but all the strategic locations they managed to gain control of were quickly recaptured by forces loyal to the junta leader.
West Africa's regional bloc on Thursday said it would soon deploy forces to Mali. The bloc, known as ECOWAS, has previously said it intends to send about 3,000 troops to Mali to help retrain and re-equip the country's military following the political upheaval. The junta quickly rejected the plan, though, saying not a single foreign soldier would step foot in Mali.