Mali: From le Movement National de l’Azawad to Mouvement pour le Salut de l’Azawad (MSA) – Images

By Rida Lyammouri

September 5th, 2016

Key members of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) split from the group and created Mouvement pour le Salut de l’Azawad (MSA). The MSA is an initiative led by two former MNLA figures, Moussa Ag Acharatoumane and Assalat Ag Habi. While Moussa have been active public figure, Assalat on the other hand have kept a low profile and his last appearance was back in April 2012 at Gao airport when the MNLA and other groups seized control of the city. He was accused by pro-Malian media to be behind an attack on Malian security forces checkpoint in Ménaka February 2016, but that was never confirmed.

Ag Habi is also a close figure to Elhadj Ag Gamou and Iyad Ag Ghali, all three were close friends and were key members of 1990s Tuareg rebellion. Ag Habi defected the Malian Army in 2011 to join the MNLA and 2012 Tuareg rebellion. He was reported to have joined platform groups supportive of the Malian government in April 2015 but that was never confirmed. Ag Habi is more known for his military experience because of the years he spent in Libya. He is comfortable speaking in Arabic than in French like most former Malian military officers and commanders.

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Assalat Ag Habi in Gao April 2012. Source: Al-Jazeera.

This division is another outcome during post conflict when influential members within certain community attempt to position themselves. Both Ag Acharatoumane and Ag Habi are key figures within Tuareg clans based in Ménaka region on the borders with Niger, Douassahak and Chamanamas respectively. Thus although MSA claims to represent communities throughout Azawad (northern Mali), this is unlikely to be case because of their limited influence and popularity among other communities.

I will add analysis and more context to this soon. Images below posted Moussa Ag Acharatoumane on 05 September 2016 (Source).

Niger: Tebu armed movement in Niger released threatening video.

By Rida Lyammouri

September 5th, 2016

Video started circulating on the messenger application Whatsapp of Tebu armed movement. The group was supposedly created in 2008 but never really conducted any violent attacks against Nigerien authorities. In the video, a representative of the group confirmed the group was indeed established back in 2008 and its members are disappointed at the Nigerien government for not addressing their claims. I am quoting here the group’s representative then followed by my comments:

“We have created since 2008 Mouvement pour la Justice et la Rehabilitation du Niger (Movement for Justice and Rehabilitation of Niger). Since we came to existence we didn’t have fundamental rights in Niger. All doors were closed and was no channel for us to claim our rights, thus we have created an armed movement. If it happens we will attack Niger because we didn’t have an opportunity for an open dialogue with Nigerien government. We are here on the ground and engaged to claim our rights in Niger. We are here to claim our rights because we are marginalized, there is petrol and uranium in this area but we are not benefiting. As a result members of this group have decided to re-organize and get armed to claim their rights to live, eat, and rights to education and health services. We have two points: We demand our rights from the Nigerien government, and second, our rights from the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC).”

Key points:

  • At this point it is too early to know how serious the group is about its threat toward the Nigerien government, and its capabilities to conduct violent attacks against Nigerien forces and foreign interests in Niger. However it should not be underestimated since from the video the group appears to have at least dozens of armed fighters with 5 vehicles, rocket launcher and machine guns. These capabilities are enough to cause harm to local forces and disrupt foreign interests based in remote areas where there is little presence of Nigerien forces.
  • Despite that spokesperson did not indicate group’s area of operation, northeastern and eastern Niger on the borders with Libya and Chad are the most likely areas of their presence if any. Both regions are categorized by Tebu communities presence and home to uranium mines in Agadez region in northeastern Niger and oil refinery in Diffa region. Any disruption by this group will further result harm to Niger’s economy while there are already tensions between Niger and its French and Chinese partners.
  • The small size of their unit is likely to make them more mobile and to focus on guerrilla type of attacks rather than conventional war with Nigerien forces.
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Screenshot from the video. Source: Youtube.

Mali: AQIM, Ansar al-Din and Related Security Incidents for August 2016

By Rida Lyammouri

September 2nd, 2016

Security situation in Mali remains a major concern due to ongoing attacks by violent extremist organizations (VEOs) against Malian, French, and the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Similar to July, almost exclusively all the attacks in August were conducted and claimed by Ansar al-Din operating in Kidal region and Ansar al-Din Macina brigade operating in central Mali. This trend is expected to continue for coming weeks and months despite increased pressure by French and Malian forces. On August 3rd Ansar al-Din released a video confirming to hold hostage 5 Malian soldiers from the Nampala attack.

National and international efforts to stabilize the country also suffered a major setback with ongoing violence and tensions between domestic actors. Tensions between the two key participants at the Algiers accord, the Coordination des Movements d’Azawad (CMA) and Groupe autodéfense touareg Imghad et alliés (GATIA), remains really high and have resulted more violent clashes. Clashes between Bambara and Fulani communities also resumed in central Mali, have been deadly, and this violence likely to continue in coming weeks and months.

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Screenshot from Ansar al-Din video of Malian soldiers captured. Source: al-Rimah.

AQIM and Ansar al-Din Related Security Incidents

03 August 2016: MINUSMA supply truck attacked and set on fire while heading to Timbuktu. (See image)

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UN supply truck set on fire August 3rd heading to Timbuktu. Source: @Baba_A_

07 August 2016: MINUSMA vehicle struck an IED between Aguelhoc and Tessalit in Kidal region. 1 peacekeeper killed and 4 injured, all of Chadian nationality. Ansar al-Din claimed the attack.

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Libya: Chronology of security incidents and violent clashes in Libya: 08 – 14 August period

By Rida Lyammouri

August 16th, 2016

There are two types of Islamist militant groups operating in Libya. Local groups: Benghazi Revolutionaries Shurah Council (BRSC), Darnah Revolutionaries Shurah Council (DRSC), Ajdabiya Revolutionaries Shurah Council (ARSC), Ansar al-Sharia Libya (AAS), Defense Brigade of Benghazi (DBB), Ajdabiya Operations Room (GATMJB). Regional groups: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State (IS).

Attacks and incidents listed below are not comprehensive and do not include all violence taking place in Libya. However these are incidents occurring in strategic areas where Libyan National Army (LNA) and its Western allies [with air support mainly] are carrying operations to chase Islamist militants out of their strongholds. Most of information is gathered through open source reporting and social media, and at times it’s difficult to confirm number of casualties and actors involved in an incident.

Key points and comments from MENASTREAM who has been following Libyan conflict very closely and recent evolvement of different groups in Libya:

  • Ajdabiya Revolutionaries Shura Council (ARSC) don’t longer exist and was dissolved several months ago resulting in the creation of ‘Operations Room for the Liberation of the City Ajdabiya and Support for Benghazi Rebels.’ GATMJB as abbreviation is now accepted according to same observer.
  • Ansar al-Sharia do exist but very much folded into BRSC along with Rafallah Sahati Brigade, February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade and few others that seems to have become totally folded into BRSC.
  • GATMJB and DBB work together but are work very closely together pretty much like one with the GATMJB leader al-Saadi al-Nawfali being a senior commander in DB as well along with Zied Bel’am commander of Katibat Omar al-Mukhtar, Mustapha Sharkassi former LAF spokesman i.e. former LNA (Haftar), Frag Shaku, the commander of February 17 Martyrs’ Brigade and also one of the main field commanders in BRSC prior the formation of DBB.
  • Increased use of suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) by BRSC could be explained by the fact they have been pushed back significantly and pretty much holed up in the corner of the ‘Western region’ Gawarsha, Ganfouda and Garyounis/south Benghazi. In this area there is an obvious possible coordination/cooperation with IS which influences this behavior. But also Ansar al-Sharia’s seemingly leading role and the strongly articulated popular support.

Note: This is a trial to see if there is need for weekly reporting about key security related events taking place in Libya. 

Chronology of violent incidents in Libya: 8 – 14 August 2016


09 August 2016: Counterterrorism office in Benghazi discovered and dismantled a sleeping cell of unknown “terrorist organization,” and arrested two suspects. Weapons, cash, and explosives also seized.

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Bushra news agency infographic. Source: @MENASTREAM

11 August 2016: According to Bushra News Agency infographic (above), two airstrikes and four drones attacks were conducted in Benghazi. Reportedly 4 killed and 5 injured.

12 August 2016: According to Saraya media, a news outlet affiliated with Benghazi Shura Council, French drone strike targeted Ganfouda district in Benghazi.

13 August 2016: Two suspects arrested in Benghazi allegedly members of what referred to as terrorist organizations. The arrest took place east Benghazi at Boudzira area. Reportedly suspects are members of Dare’ Libya 1 and Rafallah al-Sahati.

13 August 2016: Islamic State targeted National Libyan Army (LNA) in Gawarsha area in Benghazi.

14 August 2016: A landmine explosion in Al-Gawarsha district killed 2 of Khalifa Haftar’s militiamen and injured 2. The IED targeted volunteering militiamen, who fight with Haftar’s forces, as they were advancing nearby Al-Gawarsha checkpoint.


08 – 10 August 2016: After days of fighting, Bonyan Al-Marsous, Libyan militia backed by U.S airstrikes claimed capturing several strategic locations from IS in Libya. Captured locations included Ouagadougou conference center, and the university of Sirte, both have been considered symbolic to IS. Misrata hospital reported to have received 16 dead and 93 wounded soldiers from Bonyan Al-Marsous forces as a result of Sirte clashes.

09 August 2016: Bonyan Al-Marsous team struck an IED at Sirte where the Libyan militia have been clashing with IS.

10 August 2016: Libyan Dawn Air Force (LDAF) plane reported crashed at Sirte due to technical difficulties while IS media arm Amaq claimed its fighters downed the warplane. 2 pilots killed.

13 August 2016: An Islamic State SVBIED targeted Bonyan Al-Marsous gathering near captured Ouagadougou conference center. 7 fighters allegedly killed.

14 August 2016: Bonyan Al-Marsous reported ongoing clashes at both residential districts near the waterfront.


09 August 2016: SDB and LNA reportedly clashed near the Naga oil field at Jufra. LNA sources also released photos of alleged IS fighters killed claiming to the group (IS) is supposedly behind the attack.


10 August 2016: Libyan Air Force (LAF) reportedly conducted airstrikes on ammunition depot belonging to DMSC.

Libya: Chronology of security incidents and violent clashes in Libya of 01 – 07 August period

 By Rida Lyammouri

August 8th, 2016

There are two types of Islamist militant groups operating in Libya. Local groups: Benghazi Revolutionaries Shurah Council (BRSC), Darnah Revolutionaries Shurah Council (DRSC), Ajdabiya Revolutionaries Shurah Council (ARSC), Ansar al-Sharia Libya (AAS), Defense Brigade of Benghazi (DDB), Ajdabiya Operations Room (GATMJB). Regional groups: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State (IS).

Attacks and incidents listed below are not comprehensive and do not include all violence taking place in Libya. However these are incidents occurring in strategic areas where Libyan National Army (LNA) and its Western allies [with air support mainly] are carrying operations to chase Islamist militants out of their strongholds. Most of information is gathered through open source reporting and social media, and at times it’s difficult to confirm number of casualties and actors involved in an incident.

Note: This is a trial to see if there is need for weekly reporting about key security related events taking place in Libya. 

Chronology of violent incidents in Libya: 1 – 7 August


BRSC Infographic_7AUG2016.jpg

Infographic released by an Islamist militant group with alleged damages it caused to Libyan Army led by General Haftar. Source: @MENASTREAM

01 August 2016: Libyan investigators released information about suicide bomber that targeted LNA forces July 29th in Benghazi. Suicide bomber was identified and reportedly traveled to Syria before returning to join IS in Sirte then Benghazi.

01 August 2016: Reportedly, Libyan forces arrested son of former Guantanamo detainee, Soufiane Ibn Qamou, at Wadi al-Sahl, west Tubruk.

02 August 2016: 15 LNA soldiers killed and 31 injured in a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) attack on LNA gathering south of Benghazi. The attack carried near Pipeline Company at al-Gawarsha area. Majliss Shurah Thuwar Benghazi (Benghazi Revolutionaries Shurah Council) or (BRSC) claimed the attack through media arm Saraya.

02 August 2016: Military engineer injured while dismantling IEDs planted in al-Gawarsha passage, an area previously occupied by IS.

02 August 2016: LNA forces claimed to have re-captured al-Gawarsha passage west Benghazi from IS fighters.

03 August 2016: Report released by the IS in Libya showed its forces targeting LNA forces in western part of Benghazi.

05 August 2016: LNA spokesman claimed to have seized VBIED factory making and chemical called al-Doqm at Ganfouda passage west of Benghazi.

05 August 2016: LNA claimed seizing control of a flour supply warehouse in Benghazi at Ganfouda area.

07 August 2016: Head of investigation team in Benghazi reported the arrest of an IS member. However, prosecutors representative also claimed the suspect was a member of other alleged Islamist militant groups in Benghazi without specifying which groups. Suspect also revealed number of sleeping cells in Benghazi and there is an ongoing search for them.

07 August 2016: BRSC claimed to have downed an LNA surveillance drone near Amarat al-Siniya in Benghazi.

07 August 2016: Reportedly, LNA forces clashed with members of BRSC in Benghazi. BRSC pro-media outlet later released infographic with statistics of losses among General Haftar forces claiming to have destroyed 2 armored vehicles and 1 tank, in addition to killing 19 and injuring 32 LNA soldiers.


01 – 07 August 2016: U.S Africom reported to have carried out 20 airstrikes on IS in Libya.

01 August 2016: Bonyan al-Marsous reportedly seized control of Dollar district from IS at Sirte. 5 killed and 17 injured among Bonyan al-Marsous forces.

01 August 2016: Libyan Down AirForce (LDAF) carried airstrike on and destroyed an IS tank at Sirte.


01 August 2016: Omar al-Mokhtar operation room claimed to have destroyed VBIED factory making and arms warehouse in Darnah during an airstrike. The factory was located at Sayida Khadija neighborhood near Korean buildings.

02 – 03 August 2016: LNA carried airstrikes on arms depot located west of Darnah that belongs to the Revolutionaries Shurah Council (DRSC). Reportedly target of the airstrikes was located at Sayida Khadija neighborhood.

04 August 2016: DMSC ambushed LNA forces while traveling on coastal road heading to Darnah. DMSC claimed to have killed and injured at least 15 LNA members without giving specific number.

05 August 2016: LNA carried airstrikes on armed vehicles and military equipment gathering at Wadi al-Shawa’ir in southern Darnah. “Shurah Mujahidi Darnah and its Surroundings” reportedly held the post targeted.

05 August 2016: LNA forces targeted at Dhahr al-Hamr south of Darnah. 7 LNA soldiers killed.

04 August 2016: Reportedly, heavy clashes took place at the western entrance of Darnah between LNA forces and Majlis Shurah al-Mujahideen. Clashes occurred between wadi al-Naqa and Karssat village west of Darnah.

04 August 2016: LNA air force carried airstrike on al-Khashkhash farm west of Darnah.


Nigeria: Comprehensive summary of Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi interview in English

By Rida Lyammouri,

August 8th, 2016

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Key points of the interview based on Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi (Habeeb Bin Muhamed Bin Youssef al-Barnawi) comments:

  • Motivation behind pledging allegiance to the so-called Islamic State (IS) was seeing strength fighting as one and in unity.
  • The real name of the group was never Boko Haram, it’s a nickname given by western media to discredit the group. The real name was given after the founder, Sheikh Youssef al-Barnawi was killed and Shekau became head of the group. The original name is Jamaatu Ahl as-Sunnah li-Daawati wal-Jihad.
  • The group did send its fighters to the Sahara for military training, but al-Barnawi did not specify where and the group that provided the training.
  • Western forces are providing support to coalition forces fighting ISWAP/Boko Haram but have no boots on the ground.
  • Al-Barnawi said the group does not approve or authorize attacks on mosques and markets killing Muslims. Said members for their own personal interests carry these attacks.
  • Al-Barnawi said operations against ISWAP are run from joint operation room in Niger, and when they decide to attack, French and US send surveillance drones from their bases in Niger to locate us. Then joint African forces will carry an on ground assault backed by heavy air support.
  • Narrative of al-Barnawi focuses on accusing Western countries and Christians of having hidden agendas behind their humanitarian work and helping refugees.
  • Al-Barnawi claims increased number of fighters among ISWAP is due to the victories achieved by IS elsewhere. Injustice applied by local government (s) also claimed to be another reason.

Comprehensive Summary of the Interview

Note: This is not a word-by-word translation but rather a comprehensive summary of all talking points while leaving unnecessary comments out. Also this does not represent my views.

For good analysis about what this means please read Ryan Cummings commentary here.

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Nigeria: Summary of Abubakar Shekau video in response to appointing Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi

By Rida Lyammouri,

August 8th, 2016

On August 7th Jamaatu Ahl as-Sunnah li-Daawati wal-Jihad or better known as Boko Haram released a new video in response to the appointment of Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi, who is real name is Habeeb Bin Muhamed Bin Youssef al-Barnawi, as new emir of Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). The video came few days after an exclusive interview conducted by Abu Mus’ab to al-Nab’a, Islamic State newspaper, released on August 3rd.

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First speaker surrounded by Boko Haram fighters.  

Boko Haram video was little over 24 minutes long and featured Abubakar Shekau. The first speaker spoke in both, Arabic and Hausa, directing his speech to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and to African and Western forces.

He initially focused on the appointment of Abu Mus’ab al-Barnanwi. The speaker said the group reached out to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi eight times to warn about the commitment of al-Barnawi to the application of al-Sunna but never received any response. He then said that were surprised, just like the rest of the world, about appointing al-Barnawi and removing Shekau. Speaking on behalf of Shekau and his followers, the speaker confirmed they are committed and remain faithful to Shekau while still loyal to IS at the same time. Their decision is based on their loyalty to Shekau but also they don’t see al-Barnawi fit to lead them. Furthermore, the speaker talked about other issues that need to be addressed in private with al-Baghdadi without giving any indications.

Speaker then added the group will remain determined in its fight against its ennemies, referring to Nigeria and neighboring countries, and to their Western allies. Speaker directly threatened Nigeria by naming Abuja, the capital, as the main target. The first speaker then concluded by translating the same speech in Hausa.

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Shekau during the video.

In hist part, Shekau stated that the fight against infidels is just starting against Nigeria, United States, France, Germany, and United Nations. Also hinted that he does not plan to fight his brothers, referring to Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi. He then made it clear that he is the emir of Jamaatu Ahl as-Sunnah li-Daawati wal-Jihad or Boko Haram not only in Nigeria, but in the whole world.

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Video featured hundred of armed fighters.