Al Qaeda group says staged Mali hotel attack in joint operation

ACCRA (Reuters) - Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said it has joined forces with another militant group and together they staged an attack last month on a hotel in Mali's capital in which 20 people were killed, according to an audio message posted online. The leader of AQIM, Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, said in the audio speech his group was joining al Mourabitoun and the Nov. 20 attack on the Radisson Blu hotel was a symbol of their unity. The message was posted on Twitter on Thursday and seen by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors radical Islamist organizations in the media. A prominent figure in Al Mourabitoun is veteran Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who has been a key figure for years in insurgencies across North Africa and the Saharan border region. A third group, the Massina Liberation Front, also claimed responsibility for the assault in Bamako. Analysts say it is difficult to understand the organizational relationship between them. The hotel attack comes amid deteriorating security in Mali two years after a French-led military operation to scatter Islamist militants who briefly occupied the desert north. French troops and a 10,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force (MINUSMA) are struggling to stabilise the former French colony and strikes on both Malian and Western targets have spread further south and far beyond traditional militant strongholds. (Reporting by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Ralph Boulton)