Two rebel groups that seized control of the northern half of Mali have agreed to work together to create an independent Islamic state on the territory they occupy.
Alghabass Ag Intalla, one of the leaders of Ansar Dine, said his group was joining the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, a secular rebel group led by Tuareg separatists.
They signed the agreement in the northern town of Gao yesterday and celebratory gunfire rang out there and in Timbuktu, another town under their control, as fighters heard the news.
"I have just signed an accord that will see an independent and Islamic state where we have Islamic law," Mr Ag Intalla said.
Ansar Dine is known to have ties to al-Qai'da in the Islamic Maghreb, an al-Qai'da affiliate responsible for dozens of suicide attacks as well as the kidnappings of foreigners, some of whom were later executed.
The well-armed groups took control of the north of Mali, an area the size of France, at the end of March, forcing government troops to flee south.