3 Mali Islamic extremist groups merge, pledge to al-Qaida

A group that monitors jihadist sites says three extremist factions in Mali have officially announced a merger, pledging allegiance to al-Qaida's leader.

Leaders from Ansar Dine, al-Mourabitoun and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb made the declaration in a video distributed Thursday, according to SITE Intelligence Group. It says they now call the merged group "Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen," which in English translates to "Support of Islam and Muslims."

SITE Intelligence Group says the Mali group is now led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, the former leader of Ansar Dine. Ag Ghaly said the groups have been inspired by the unification of factions in Syria.

Islamic extremists took control of northern Mali in 2012. A French-led intervention drove them from strongholds in 2013, but attacks continue.