The north African offshoot of Al-Qaeda now dominates in northern Mali, which fell into rebel hands in March, regional security sources said Saturday.
"Today it is Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb which occupies a dominant position in the three areas of northern Mali thanks to its alliance with the Islamic Ansar Dine group and the influx of Tunisian, Libyan and Moroccan fighters," a Mauritanian source told AFP.
Islamic and tribal Tuareg groups took advantage of a March 22 military coup in the capital Bamako to push government forces out of the whole of northern Mali, an area the size of France, including the cities of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.
A resident of Timbuktu that AQIM fighters from other countries of the region had swarmed to the desert city in the far north, distributing food to the inhabitants and saying they had come to wage holy war.
The resident said Timbuktu was under the control of Abou Yaya Hamame, the head of an elite AQIM combat unit.
A security source said AQIM was less prominent in Gao and Kidal further to the east and south but it had men loyal to it inside both cities.