(Militiaman from the Ansar Dine Islamist militant group sit on a vehicle in Gao in northeastern Mali, June 18, 2012. REUTERS/Adama Diarra)

Al Qaeda-linked Islamists declared on Thursday they had secured full control of Mali’s desert north from separatist rebels with whom they had temporarily joined forces to seize territory earlier this year.

Separatist Tuareg-led MNLA rebels and armed Islamist groups, swept through northern Mali in March and April and declared an independent state of “Azawad” in the north after routing the regular troops, in disarray after a March 22 coup in the West African country.

The Tuareg separatists said they wanted an independent secular state while the Islamists said their objective was to impose sharia or Islamic law across the whole of Mali, which mostly follows a moderate form of Islam.

The relationship between the state and Islam differs significantly across western Africa, in part because of variations in the complex interaction between Islam and ethnic politics.