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Influx of foreign fighters threatens stability of Mali

Adama Diarra / Reuters

Militiaman from the Ansar Dine Islamic group ride on an armed vehicle between Gao and Kidal in northeastern Mali, June 12, 2012.

Adama Diarra / Reuters

Militiaman from the Ansar Dine Islamic group, who said they had come from Niger and Mauritania, ride on a vehicle at Kidal in northeastern Mali, June 16, 2012.

The leader of the Ansar Dine Islamic group in northern Mali,  Iyad Ag Ghali,  has rejected any form of independence of the northern half of the country and has vowed to pursue plans to impose sharia law throughout the West African nation. Ghali's stance could further deepen the rift between his group and the separatist Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) as both vie for the control of the desert region.

Reuters reports: Mali, once regarded as a good example of African democracy, collapsed into chaos after soldiers toppled the president in March, leaving a power vacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels in the north to take control of nearly two-thirds of the country.

The uprising also involved a mix of local and foreign Islamists, and Western diplomats talk of the risk the region could turn into a "West African Afghanistan".  Full story

Analysis: Mali: the world's next jihadi launchpad?

Editor's note: Top picture was taken June 12, but made available to msnbc.com today.