Boko Haram had a busy Ramadan in 2017, which reflected one of the group’s more successful recent thirty-day spans in terms of violence.

July 11, 2017

Boko Haram had a busy Ramadan in 2017, which reflected one of the group’s more successful recent thirty-day spans in terms of violence.

In total, at least thirty-nine different attacks attributed to the group occurred, the highest monthly total this year (although April and January were close). Ramadan started off slow, with just six attacks in the first ten days, before the group engaged in near-daily violence the rest of the time.

Of the thirty-nine attacks, 25 involved suicide bombers – nearly two out of every three incidents. In fact, the number of suicide incidents is the most ever recorded in a one-month span, an indication of the group’s mystifying ability not just to maintain, but even increase, capabilities in this regard.

These attacks included at least 38 total bombers, as 14 incidents involved multiple bombers, with as many as four at once. While many Boko Haram suicide attacks have largely been ineffective recently – confined to the outskirts of urban areas and few casualties, especially of civilians – Ramadan reversed this trend. At least 55 civilians were killed, or more than two per attack (compared to 9 total civilians killed on 13 attacks in May). While casualty counts are difficult to track and impossible to guarantee complete accuracy, it is clear that the lethality to civilians of this type of violence increased (though centering around a few specific incidents, in which the group was able to exploit some security vulnerabilities).

In terms of location, 18 of the total Ramadan incidents occurred in northern Cameroon (predominately in the Mayo Sava department) while 20 were in Borno state, and one in Chad. Half of those in Borno occurred in or on the outskirts of Maiduguri, symbolizing the group’s continued fascination with the movement’s birthplace. Many of these occurred in two primary areas of the city – its eastern and southeastern flanks, a likely indication of the Shekau faction’s responsibility given his group’s purported hideouts in areas to the south and southeast of the Borno state capital (such as Sambisa Forest).

In terms of the factional nature of the violence, it appears the vast majority of recorded incidents over Ramadan likely derive from the Shekau faction. The use of suicide bombers, the targeting of civilians, and the geographic concentration of violence along the Nigeria-Cameroon border and in south-central Borno all point to Shekau’s responsibility.

Nonetheless, the Barnawi faction is reportedly also present in areas of south-central Borno state, and little information emerges from its presumed northern Borno state strongholds around Guzamala and Abadam local government areas (LGAs), so it is difficult to say how operational the group has been recently. The major 24 June 2017 battle with Chadian security forces along some islands in Lake Chad is the clearest indication of a likely Barnawi faction violence (and was later claimed in the Islamic State weekly publication Al Naba), but the majority of the incidents in the dataset more closely correspond to Shekau’s operational methods.

The Shekau faction also followed up its two biggest Ramadan attacks – an invasion of the Jiddari Polo neighborhood in Maiduguri, and an assault on a convoy of vehicles traveling from Maiduguri along Damboa road in which several female police officers were reportedly abducted, with video messaging claiming the incidents, serving to capitalize on the propaganda value of their success. In fact, both incidents represent somewhat of a recent increase of capabilities for a group constantly claimed to be on the decline. The convoy consisted of 200 vehicles and was protected by both the Nigerian army and police, while the Jiddari Polo incident represented Boko Haram’s first “invasion” of Maiduguri in nearly two years (in addition one of its deepest recent penetrations of the city).

These two incidents, combined with the increase in suicide attack lethality and continued indications after Ramadan of sustained capabilities (such as the first suicide attack in Niger in 1.5 years and repeated suicide violence in northern Cameroon), are patent signs that the movement is far from being defeated. In fact, the increased levels of violence targeting Maiduguri since late last year is another indication that events like the “fall” of Sambisa Forest may result in pushing the militants around more than eliminating them, with some of this now coming closer to the Borno state capital. There is an ebb and flow nature to this violence, but it seems the movement has been able to regroup after military pressure in some fashion.

It also begs the question as to how the movement was able to enjoy such success during this month? Boko Haram is still a far cry from what it was a few years ago when it controlled much of Borno state and beyond, but Ramadan 2017 indicates that it is far from a spent force, and rather one capable of constant adaption. The shifts the group made have helped increase the effectiveness of its suicide attacks, while demonstrating a consistent supply of both bombers and explosive materials. Security actors must consider these dynamics and respond with constantly innovate tactics as well – the recent announcement that the University of Maiduguri, a frequent target in past months, will start digging trenches around unfenced parts of the campus is a good start. But as Ramadan 2017 indicated, more measures are needed, and despite some previously positive trends, it will be unwise to relax when it comes to security in the Lake Chad region any time soon.

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Mali: Summary of Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) 01 July 2017 Video

By Rida Lyammouri,

02 July 2017

Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) released new video of six remaining hostages. Hostages detained include a French, Australian, South African, Colombian, Swiss, and Romanian. Video was released on 01 July 2017 through its media outlet az-Zallaqa but produced by al-Ezza production, first if I am not mistaken, and maybe JNIM’s new media outlet/platform! This came a day before French president, Emmanuel Macron, second visit to Mali within a month. Also, days before the release of Swedish hostage Johan Gustafsson who was kidnapped (with 5 others) by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in November 25, 2011 at Hotel al-Afia in Timbuktu.

Six hostages appeared in the video. South African Stephen McGow showed first in the is the only hostage remaining from Timbuktu 2011 kidnapping. Second, Australian Eliot Kenneth, kidnapped in Burkina Faso January 2016. His wife was also taken but then released weeks later. Romanian Lulian Ghergut, taken also in Burkina Faso April 2015. Worth noting that Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, head of Islamic State branch in the Sahara claimed to have Lulian Ghergut when the group pledged allegiance to Islamic State, and split with al-Murabitun of Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

Before showing other hostages the video denounced Christian missionaries operating in Mali. This to justify the reasons of the kidnappings of three humanitarian workers. The first hostage accused of proselytization is the Swiss Béatrice Stockly, who was taken for the second time from Timbuktu in January 2016. Second hostage is the Colombian Gloria Cecilia Narvaez, also accused of proselytizing and described as “Franciscaine.” Sixth and last showed hostage is Sophie Pétronin, humanitarian and last to be taken, kidnapped in Gao December 2016. Sophie Pétronin was accused also of spreading western ideology while showing Emannuel Macron speech promising during the elections to protect the French people. Pétronin also appeared asking for French president’s help for her release, and her need for a surgery due to existing tumor in her left breast. This indicates that the video was made during the last two months, May and June 2017.

Representative of the jihadist group with face covered appeared and noted that serious negotiations has yet to take place. He also made reference to previous hostage releases and to say that this will depend on the political willingness of their respective governments.

Important to note JNIM’s video did not mention Jeff Woodke, an American who was abducted in Abalak, Niger in Oct 2016. An indication that he might be held by different group, and also tells us something about JNIM’s areas of operations.

Mali – Sahel: May 2017 Violent Incidents Related to JNIM [AQIM, Ansar al-Din], and Other Security Incidents

June 15th, 2017

By Rida Lyammouri

  • Sahel MeMo recorded at least 14 violent incidents with violent extremist organizations (VEOs) involvement. However only 7 officially claimed by Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) through its media arm az-Zallaqa.
  • Sahel MeMo recorded at least 23 casualties and 43 injuries among Malian Army, MINUSMA, and MNLA as a result of the 14 violent incidents by VEOs. Out of the 14 incidents, both MINUSMA and Malian forces were victims of 4 attacks each [1 both simultaneously].
  • Among casualties recorded in May 2017, 3 MINUSMA peacekeepers killed and 14 injured. 19 Malian soldiers killed and 28 injured. 1 MNLA member assassinated.
  • Sahel MeMo recorded at least 24 armed robberies incidents in May 2017. Non-government organizations (NGOs) were targeted by armed bandits at least 5 times, including ICRC and MSF. Armed robberies recorded all took place in northern and central Mali and most of the victims were civilians.
  • Sahel MeMo recorded clashes between armed groups and militias signatories of the peace accord.
  • 3 violent incidents recorded by Sahel MeMo in Niger in Tillabéri Region while 4 others took place in Burkina Faso. No group claimed responsibility of these attacks. Members of Ansaroul Islam in Burkina Faso and Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui men are the main suspects.
  • The month of May 2017 also witnessed at least two tragedies regarding migrants traveling to Libya through Niger. At least 52 migrants were found dead in the Nigerien desert.

FULL PDF REPORT – MAY 2017 INCIDENT TRACKER

 

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Mali – Sahel: April 2017 Violent Incidents Related to AQIM, Ansar al-Din, JNIM, and Other Security Incidents

May 3rd, 2017

By Rida Lyammouri

Mali – Sahel: April 2017 Security Incidents – PDF FULL REPORT

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  • At the closure of conférence d’entente nationale people suggested negotiating with Ag Ghali and Mohamed Koufa. Both remain influential in northern and central Mali where jihadist groups continue to conduct frequent attacks on Malian, French, and MINUSMA forces. Though the idea of negotiations with both leaders made a significant noise, this remains almost an impossible idea to be accepted by any Malian and certainly little too late for talks option.
  • 600 schools closed in the Sahel Region in Burkina Faso due to increased threats and insecurity. After the French intervention in Mali January 2013 this region provided ideal fallback for members of jihadist groups that fled Mali. Little presence of security forces and relying on recruited local leaders facilitated the expansion of AQIM and allies.
  • In the past month or so, Barkhane, Malian, and Burkina Faso forces conducted operations on the borders with Mali. This led to the destruction of what appeared to be an important logistical base to newly formed group, Ansaroul Islam, on 29-30 April 2017. At least 20 militants killed and important arms and explosives destroyed.
  • In the absence of permanent presence of legitimate forces to protect local population in remote areas, we continue to see the emergence of small armed groups. For instance, Fulani armed group emerged near Ansongo claiming to be non-jihadist and non-separatist, and to recognize Malian State.
  • Reportedly, Ansaroul Islam operating in Burkina Faso and led by Ibrahim Dicko plans to pledge allegiance to so-called Islamic State. While existing ties between members of Ansaroul Islam and Adnane Abu Walid al-Sahraoui indicate as this to be a possibility, it’s unlikely to have a major impact at the operational level.
  • CJA announced on 20 APR 17 to abandon checkpoint controlled west of Timbuktu to the Malian Army. CJA controlled the checkpoint since early March while protesting against the terms of interim authorities implementation in Timbuktu and Taoudeni Regions.
  • JNIM distributed leaflets at Zouera, Timbuktu Region telling CJA are not the target but they should not provide any type support to French, MINUSMA, and Malian forces.
  • In response to increased armed robberies around Bourem and Gao Region in general, local authorities in Bourem on 30 April announced banning circulation of motorcycles at the Bourem Circle until 21 May. Movement of people is likely to be reduced and limited, and thus affect the livelihood of many families and further deteriorate humanitarian conditions in the area.

Mali – Sahel: March 2017 Violent Incidents Related to AQIM, Ansar al-Din, JNIM, and Other Security Incidents

By Rida Lyammouri

April 24th, 2017

Sahel MeMo March 2017 Tracker – PDF

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Security situation in Mali and Sahel in general was overshadowed by the creation of new jihadist coalition on 02 March 2017. The new group is called “Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, translated to “Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims,” and now abbreviated as JNIM. JNIM was formed by joining forces between AQIM Sahara Branch, Ansar al-Din, al-Murabitoun, and Ansar al-Din Macina brigade.

In addition to surviving the ongoing aggressive counterterrorism operations in Mali, groups making the core of new alliance already been enjoying operational success in different parts of the country and all operate in different regions. Ansar al-Din operates mainly in Kidal Region where carries regular attacks against French and MINUSMA forces. Sahara branch of AQIM remains present in Timbuktu Region where its focus not only MINUSMA, French, and Malian forces, but also acts of intimidation against locals and members of armed groups collaborating with foreign and Malian security forces. Macina brigade operates almost exclusively in Mopti and Segou Regions where since January 2015 number of its attacks increased significantly and focused largely on Malian forces small units based in the area. Its attacks also included attacks on MINUSMA logistical convoys. Lastly, al-Murabitoun carried limited number of attacks mainly in Gao Region.

In a short-term, despite being labeled as Sahel jihadist coalition, JNIM will mostly, if not only, impact the security situation in Mali. This is more about Mali than whole Sahel Region, especially with the clear attempt by Al-Qaeda to maximize its access to local communities. Relying on local groups is nothing new and AQIM’s localization approach was its signature since started penetrating northern Mali in early 2000s and continued to recent years with the creation of Ansar al-Din and Macina brigade.

Leaders of the new coalition, led by Iyad Ag Ghali, know more than anyone else the importance of sending that message of unity. This comes at a critical time as different parties involved in the peace process continue to struggle to achieve just that [unity]. Creation of JNIM is also more than competition, if there is any, with so-called Islamic State. It’s been almost two years since Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui pledged allegiance to ISIS and never really imposed a similar threat, at least for now, as Al-Qaeda affiliates in Mali and neighboring countries. Al-Sahraoui’s men might have been credited deadly attack in Niger but the group itself never released official statement to claim such important attack for its propaganda.

Going forward violent extremist groups (VEOs) in Mali will continue to seek opportunities to carry spectacular attacks to cause high number of casualties. These attacks will target MINUSMA, French, Malian, and armed groups by relying on suicide missions conducted by small number of militants.

 

 

Abu Musab al Barnawi: Ideals vs. Reality

By Omar S Mahmood

April 19th, 2017

At the time of the August 2016 split, Abu Musab al-Barnawi and his associates served more in an opposition role, expressing discontent regarding the group’s trajectory or practices, and promising change. Yet like any opposition leader suddenly thrust into power and given decision-making functions, the realities of control contrast to the ideals expressed while in opposition. This common struggle typically results in a degree of pragmatism and moderation on behalf of the opposition candidate, in turn preventing the full implementation of the principles previously advocated. This in turn is a likely explanation for the recent string of incidents involving the Barnawi faction, and a worrying trend for civilians continuing to live in proximity to his forces.

The Abu Musab al-Barnawi faction of Boko Haram has recently been accused of abusing local civilian populations in northeast Nigeria. Food and medical supplies have been looted, civilians have been executed for refusing extortion payments and under suspicion of working for the government, and nearly two dozen young girls have reportedly been kidnapped. Nonetheless, local residents have also acknowledged that the group does not engage in indiscriminate targeting nor seeks to destroy local possession, aspects which have become a hallmark of Abubakar Shekau’s punitive violence towards civilians. Nonetheless, while the faction may not be operating in as predatory a manner as that of Shekau, recent events suggest that the realities of survival have likely begun to triumph over some of the more idealistic notions initially espoused by Barnawi upon his assumption of power back in August 2016.

Based on his messaging, a large part of Barnawi’s discontent revolved around Shekau’s propensity for attacks that resulted in Muslim civilian casualties. Aside from shifting these attack patterns, however, Barnawi’s leadership likely sought to more broadly alter Boko Haram’s operational processes, in a bid to reset group relations with the local civilian populace.

One key issue lies in the targeting of civilians who support vigilante organizations. Barnawi threatened the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), just as Shekau did before him. Nonetheless, it is important to recall that under Shekau the targeting of civilian vigilante forces escalated quickly after their public emergence in mid-2013. Initially restricted to the vigilantes themselves, violence spiraled to indiscriminate attacks on villages where the CJTF had been set up, and eventually to civilians from Borno state at large, with the group deeming all from the state as culpable supporters. While Boko Haram violence prior to this also resulted in civilian deaths, the advent of large-scale attacks aimed at destroying entire villages emerged out of these dynamics. As an illustration of this extension of violence, a 2015 report from Amnesty International described Boko Haram massacres directed at towns with CJTF units like Gwoza and Bama, while others without a vigilante presence were largely spared.

In Barnawi’s messaging, he has made clear that those who participate in a conspiracy against Islam are legitimate targets, and Muslim vigilantes would qualify in this sense, given their close relations with the government. Yet the question remains as to where Barnawi will draw the line – given that vigilantes are so entrenched at this point in the region and rely on the support of many local communities, will those all communities be found guilty by association?

The wholesale targeting of civilians under Shekau did not emerge in a vacuum, but was tied changes in the local environment and a desire to intimidate those supporting the vigilantes. With Barnawi facing the same dynamics and a likely desire to curb the CJTF’s activities, will he be able to continue to stick to his original ideals to avoid Muslim civilian casualties? Or are the recent executions of three civilians under suspicion of working with the government (along with another for refusing to abide by group demands regarding a forced protection tax), more suggestive of the slippery slope Shekau once faced, and reminiscent of his initially limited targeting of just those considered to be informants?

Another big aspect is in terms of recruitment. The rise in civilian soft targeting by Boko Haram in 2013 coincided with an increase in forced recruitment, as resentment spread given Boko Haram’s attacks on the local populace. This chipped away at the sympathy gained following the Nigerian Government’s heavy-handed crackdown on group members in 2009, and resulted in less willing recruits. To address this manpower shortage, the movement increasingly engaged in forced recruitment, with one estimate of as many as to 10,000 young boys abducted over the past three years.

Barnawi promised to end attacks that kill Muslims in the region may have been tied to expectations of increased recruitment, as his movement seeks to end the practice of targeting the same populace from which it hopes to draw membership. Nonetheless, Barnawi’s focus on more large-scale direct engagements with security forces requires a high number of well-trained fighters to be successful, much more so than asymmetric attacks like suicide bombings. In addition, conducting these sorts of attacks will likely will result in a high turnover rate given the increased risk of casualties. For example, the June 2016 attack targeting military structures in Nigerien town of Bosso was a significant short-term success, but also resulted in the death of 55 militants.

While Shekau apparently did not have major qualms about forced recruitment, the increase use of that practice intertwined with addressing a shortfall in willing adherents. In contrast, an initial Barnawi decision to reportedly let some hostages go after a clash with Shekau’s fighters, suggested that he was less apt to rely on such dynamics, falling in line with his overall vision to lessen the pernicious effects of his movement’s struggle on the local Muslim population. But if willing recruitment does not meet required levels, will Barnawi be forced to renegotiate his stance given on-the-ground realities?

The recent abduction of women suggests his group is not as adverse to forced conscription as initially expected (in contrast, some Barnawi’s members have even been surrendering recently – though it is unclear if that involves a daring escape from the group or not). Whether this will eventually extend beyond the hitherto isolated incidents remains to be seen, but the decision to ignore forced conscription when it comes to women, is not an encouraging sign for an eventual spread of that tactic to men as well.

Another aspect concerns preying off the local population, a matter in which the Shekau group has become particularly well versed. Food, medicine, livestock, and other supplies are frequently raided from local populations as a necessity for survival. This predatory relationship flies in the face of Barnawi’s attempts to win the civilian populace back over to his side, but his fighters find themselves living in similar remote rural areas as well, with need for the same basic supplies. Such demands can adjust a prospective no-looting policy, which recent incidents seem to indicate. While not conducted as violently as Shekau, the looting of food and other supplies is an example another a likely ideal being adjusted, as reality sets in for the young factional leader.

Boko Haram proved to be a highly adaptable group under Shekau, responding to shifting dynamics in their operating environment. Yet, while many of these adaptations were effective, they also came at a destructive cost to the local population. As the Barnawi movement faces the prospect of having to make decisions that ensures the survival of his group, will such realities result in a compromise of his ideals, to the detriment of those living in the Lake Chad Basin region? Or will he be able to find a way to maintain a degree of effectiveness, while holding true to his initial messaging? Recent events appear to suggest that while attempting to preserve the latter, the former may be winning out.

Omar S Mahmood is a researcher at ISS in the Peace and Security Programme. Before joining the ISS, Omar worked as an international security consultant focused on the Lake Chad Basin and Horn of Africa regions; a senior analyst for a Washington DC-based consulting firm; and a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso.

Mali: February 2017 Violence Related to AQIM, Ansar al-Din, MUJWA, and Other Security Incidents

By Rida Lyammouri,

March 12th, 2017

Analysis and Comments

  • Sahel MeMo recorded in February 2017 at least 20 incidents related [or at least suspected to be] to violent extremist organizations operating in Mali. This includes failed attempts by VEOs, such as when improvised explosive devices (IEDs) been discovered and dismantled.
  • Sahel MeMo recorded 11 casualties and 18 wounded among Malian security forces while 8 peacekeepers of MINUSMA injured.
  • In February 2017 only 2 attacks were officially claimed by Ansar al-Din and AQIM.
  • Niger witnessed at least one deadly attack on its forces in Tillabéry Region on the borders with Mali. At least 15 soldiers killed and 18 injured. This forced Nigerien government to declare state of emergency in most of Tahoua and Tillabéry Regions. Barkhane also established a remote post in Tillebéry Region.
  • Security situation in Burkina Faso on the borders with Mali has degraded. Militant group identified as Ansarul Islam emerged in the area while little is known thus far about the group and its capabilities. However local officials and school teachers have been threatened by unidentified individuals at Soum near borders with Mali.
  • Colombian nun kidnapped by unknown gunmen at Karangasso, Sikasso Region. Hostage identified as Gloria Argoti and as of March 7th no group claimed responsibility. This brings total of 8 hostages being taken and held by jihadist groups or other unknown groups in Mali and neighboring countries in the Sahel.
  • Reportedly, members from Fulani and Bambara communities engaged in violent clashes in Ké-Macina, Mopti Region. At least 20 people killed.
  • Armed banditry continues to be threat to civilians and peacekeeping operations in central and northern Mali.

FEBRUARY 2017 INCIDENTS: FULL PDF REPORT

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