Triumphant Tuareg rebels fall out over al-Qaeda's jihad in Mali
"Their core was formed by a group of Malian Tuareg soldiers who had been part of Colonel Gaddafi’s army for years, and in some cases decades. Last summer they realised that he was doomed and deserted his army, with large amounts of his weapons which they secretly transported across the desert to Mali. There they set up the MNLA, reviving a moribund Tuareg rebellion against Mali’s government which started at independence from France in 1960. In January they launched an insurrection under the command of Mohammed Ag Najm, a former officer in Gaddafi’s army.
His men had fought Gaddafi’s losing wars in Chad, Lebanon and against rebels in Libya last year. This time they wanted to fight for their own state, but not for religion - but they needed the support of Tuareg jihadis who were fighting the Mali government. At a tense meeting last autumn the Gaddafi deserters became allied to a group of jihadis led by a rebel called Iyad Ag Ghali, a shadowy figure who some are now calling the master of the Sahara, perhaps permaturely.
Mr Ghali, believed to be in his fifties, has been a power in Tuareg politics for decades, but became shunned by the mainstream after finding Allah in the 1990s under the tutelage of Pakistani preachers who may have been linked to Osama bin Laden.
He refuses to shake hands with a woman, and has a reputation for stern religious fervour, although he is also regarded as hospitable and generous like most Tuareg. His links to extremists are troubling; he was thrown out of Saudi Arabia because he was regarded as too extreme. "