Monthly Archives: February 2016

Kidal Region, Mali: AQIM and Ansar al-Din Related Attacks and Brief Analysis

By Rida Lyammouri

Note: Chronology of the attacks covered 01 December 2014 to 31 December 2015 period. For incidents that took place in Kidal city, please see previous post.

Violent extremist organizations (VEOs) operating in Kidal region include al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar al-Din. In addition to VEOs related attackes listed below, here are key analysis to keep in mind about the area and both groups:

  • AQIM brigades known to operate in Kidal region include: katibat al-Ansar, katibat Tarik Ibn Ziyad, and katibat Yussuf Ibn Tachefin.
  • Kidal region is strategic to AQIM and Ansar al-Din in terms of logistics and local support. AQIM and Ansar al-Din rely on fuel, foodstuff, and possibly weapons smuggled from Libya or elsewhere through southeast Algeria and northwest Niger.
  • Villages on both sides of the borders provide ideal fall back to AQIM and Ansar al-Din due to ties with local communities.
  • Key villages with Iyad Ag Ghali influence include Boughessa, Tinzawaten, Abeibera, and Tassissat in Mali, and Timiaouine and Inerkache on the Algerian side. No presence of French, Malian, or MINUSMA forces in these villages on the Malian side provides ideal recruitment environment for Ansar al-Din and AQIM.
  • Communities in remote villages in Kidal region feel abandoned and neglected by Malian authorities.
  • On 16 October 2015, Iyad Ag Ghaly denounced the peace process and threatened to intensify attacks against French forces and their allies in Mali. He also made references to sleeping cells in Kidal, Mopti, Sikasso and Timbuktu regions.
  • On 01 July 2015, Ansar al-Din distributed flyers announcing future attacks on MINUSMA and French forces, and warned locals against collaboration with foreign and Malian forces.

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    A Local Well Between Kidal and Anéfis. Source: Maghreb and Sahel Contributor

Key incidents: (will be happy to include any incidents I missed)

18 December 2014: MINUSMA vehicle struck an IED near its camp in Aguelhoc, Kidal region. 3 peacekeepers injured.

29 December 2014: At least 15 rockets were fired at a base shared by MINUSMA, French, and Malian forces in Tessalit, Kidal region.

31 December 2014: At least three rockets landed near the airstrip in Tessalit, Kidal region.

15 January 2015: Civilian vehicle struck and IED in Taghlit, Kidal region. 1 killed and 2 injured.

30-31 January 2015: French forces conducted an armed assault on group of militants near Abeibera, Kidal region. 12 jihadists reported killed, and weapons seized.

02 March 2015: An MNLA vehicle struck an IED 20km outside the city of Kidal, Mali. 3 MNLA fighters killed and 3 injured.

02 March 2015: French forces clashed with militants during an operation in Tigherghar Mountains, Kidal region. 4 militants reportedly killed and others escaped.

02 March 2015: French forces discovered and destroyed important quantity of ammunition and rockets in Tigherghar Mountains, Kidal region.

06 April 2015: French SOF launched an assault on a militant camp, killing 2 and arresting 2, then freeing Dutch hostage kidnapped and held by AQIM since 16 November 2011.

06 April 2015: MINUSMA vehicle struck an IED between Kidal and Anéfis while escorting contractors’ convoy. 2 peacekeepers injured.

16 June 2015: Unidentified militants launched five rockets on MINUSMA camp in Aguelhoc, Kidal region.

24 July 2015: Unidentified militants fired eight mortar shells on MINUSMA camp in Aguelhoc, Kidal region. Landed outside the camp and no casualties recorded.

Summary of 2015 AQIM and VEOs Related Attacks on MINUSMA in Kidal, Northern Mali

By Rida Lyammouri

In 2015, The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was targeted at least 8 times by violent extremist groups (VEOs) in Kidal, Mali alone. Groups operating in the area include al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar al-Din. Below is a chronology of 2015 attacks:

  • 2 improvised explosive devices (IED) related attacks
  • 2 vehicle-born improvised explosive device (VBIED) related attacks
  • 4 Rockets related attacks

09 January 2015: MINUSMA vehicle struck an IED. 7 Senegalese peacekeepers injured.

17 January 2015: A VBIED targeted MINUSMA checkpoint. 1 peacekeeper killed and 1 injured, both Chadians.

17 January 2015: At least 8 rockets fired by unknown militants at MINUSMA camp.

17 January 2015: A VBIED targeted MINUSMA camp.

Note: 17 January attacks were coordinated and took place simultaneously.

09 February 2015: Mortars fired at MINUSMA camp.

08 March 2015: Six shells fired at MINUSMA camp. 1 peacekeeper killed and 8 injured. 3 civilians killed and 2 injured.

08 August 2015: A vehicle of the MINUSMA Force conducting a mine clearance operation at Kidal airstrip struck an IED without causing any casualties.

28 November 2015: Six rockets hit the MINUSMA camp killing 2 peacekeepers and 1 civilian contractor, wounding 18 peacekeepers and 2 civilian contractors. Ansar al-Din claimed responsibility.

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The High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) Forces in Kidal Region, Mali. Source: Maghreb and Sahel Blog Contributor.

AQIM Never Really Abandoned Timbuktu, Mali

By Rida Lyammouri

February 6th, 2016

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is making noise again in northern Mali, thanks to its Grand Sahara branch, based in Timbuktu region. AQIM been in the news for the past couple months more than it has been for the past two years. AQIM conducted and claimed responsibility for spectacular and small scale attacks that garnered the international attention the group was striving for. The group also stepped up its media campaign and been releasing regular high-quality videos the past two months. Popular recent acts by AQIM include two kidnappings, a swiss national in Timbuktu, Mali, and an Australian couple in Burkina Faso near Malian borders. Although later was conducted far from Timbuktu, it was still claimed by AQIM katibat Grand Sahara. The same AQIM branch, in collaboration with al-Murabitun, was behind both attacks that targeted hotels in Bamako, Mali and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Because of the number of foreign nationals killed, both attacks surely got the world attention, exactly what AQIM wanted. While many observers insist this rise is in competition with the so-called Islamic State, this is more important for AQIM in terms of recruitment of locals, especially after the group was weakened by the French intervention. But this also the group never disappeared or left Timbuktu region.

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Timbuktu Local Market. Source: Maghreb and Sahel Blog Contributor. 16 January 2016

AQIM occupied Timbuktu from April 2012 until it was chased by French forces in January 2013. True the group was no longer governing the city but most of its fighters fled to neighboring villages where there is little to no presence of Malian forces. Bamako and Ouagadougou attacks got the international attention but the international community rarely mentions acts of violence conducted by AQIM around Timbuktu against locals suspected to have collaborated with foreign and Malian troops (see more on my previous post on AQIM in Timbuktu). The group might have went into hiding modes but never left the area. French, Malian, and MINUSMA troops never had their presence felt in the small villages where AQIM have been working and building strong ties with local communities for years. Sporadic and irregular patrols by these troops never seriously threatened AQIM cells and collaborators in the area. Attacks conducted by AQIM in Timbuktu region demonstrated that the group was well informed, indicating AQIM maintained and maybe improved existing local ties. In November 2015 for instance, fighters of AQIM led by Talha al-Liby showed up at a local community meeting north of Timbuktu, in the village of Boudjbeha to be precise. With smiles on their faces al-Liby and his deputies interacted comfortably with local notables participating at the meeting. In addition to the friendly exchanges, al-Liby and his fighters publicly warned against collaborating with the French forces. After three years since supposedly AQIM was “defeated,” al-Liby and his men, while greeting the crowd at Boudjbeha, never appeared to be concerned or worried about being targeted by French or Malian forces.

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Timbuktu City. Source: Maghreb and Sahel Blog Contributor. 16 January 2016

More recently, I mean today [06 February 2016], AQIM released a statement to claim responsibility of the attack in Timbuktu that took place a day before. The attack targeted Palmerie hotel used by MINUSMA police as a camp. According to the statement, the camp was first targeted by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) driven by an individual identified as al-Qandahari, an Arab decent from Oulad Idriss clan. Oulad Idriss of Bérabiche are Arab communities based in Mauritania and northern Mali, especially in Timbuktu region. Oulad Idriss community in Timbuktu region believed to have strong ties with AQIM through mariages and business activities. Although this doesn’t tell us much but it’s highly likely AQIM in Timbuktu region, led by Yahya Abu al-Hammam and Talha al-Liby, maintains an influence that should not be underestimated. Recent attacks and kidnappings indicate that despite the French intervention in 2013, Grand Sahara of AQIM in Timbuktu region continued to recruit and train local youth to carry suicide missions in the area and beyond.

 

Mali: January 2016 Violence Related to AQIM, Ansar al-Din, MUJWA, and Other Security Incidents

By Rida Lyammouri

07 January 2016: Gunmen abducted a Swiss woman identified as Beatrice Stockly in Timbuktu. Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility in a video the group released on January 26th, 2016.

09 January 2016: AQIM released a video of the Swedish and South African hostages. Both hostages were kidnapped in Timbuktu, Mali November 26th, 2011. AQIM demanded not to involved France in the negotiations.

09 January 2016: Yahya Abu al-Hammam, head of katibat Grand Sahara of AQIM in Mali, conducted first interview since the French intervention in Mali in January 2013.

Key points:

  • Abu al-Hammam confirmed collaboration between AQIM and Macina Liberation Front (MLF), jihadist group that rose to prominence since January 2015 in Central Mali.
  • Abu al-Hammam said AQIM was in contact with Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, and hoping will return to the right direction. Claiming al-Sahraoui had gone astray in giving allegiance to the so-called Islamic State.

09 January 2016: Malian investigators reported a proof to confirm al-Murabitun to be behind November 20th, 2015 Radison Blu hotel attack in Bamako, Mali. Mali’s chief prosecutor said that a scrap of paper with an Arabic inscription was found on the bodies of the two men that conducted the attack. The note sought the release of two prisoners who are members of al-Murabitun. Katibat Grand Sahara of AQIM, in collaboration with al-Murabitun, already claimed responsibility.

12 January 2016: Unknown gunmen attacked Malian forces checkpoint near Gao. Reportedly, gunmen seized weapons after Malian officers abandoned the post.

13 January 2016: Two men have been indicted on charges of complicity in terrorism for the attack on Radison Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali. The two suspects were arrested November 26th, 2015.

15 January 2016: Gunmen attacked a market in Dioura, Mopti region, killing a guard from the Water and Forests Agency. Members of the MLF suspected to be behind the attack.

15 January 2016: Suspected AQIM gunmen attacked Malian security forces while escorting humanitarian convoy near Goundam, Timbuktu. Two soldiers and two attackers reportedly killed. Three Malian soldiers wounded and three attackers arrested.

15 January 2016 (see statement image below): Ansar al-Din claimed to have targeted and destroyed a French military vehicle north of Kidal killing unknown number of French soldiers. France did not confirm the incident.

19 January 2016: Unconfirmed reporting stated that a MINUSMA vehicle struck an improvised explosive device (IED) near Kidal injuring unknown number of peacekeepers. MINUSMA did not confirm the incident.

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19 January 2016: Gunmen killed three Malian gendarmes in ambush in Mopti region. Ansar al-Din Macina branch claimed responsibility.

21 January 2016 (see statement image below): Ansar al-Din Macina branch claimed to have attacked Malian forces checkpoint in Konna and seized weapons.

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21 January 2016: Unidentified gunmen targeted weekly market at Bonna commune in Macina Circle. One civilian killed and one gendarme injured.

21 January 2016: Two rockets reportedly fired at MINUSMA camp in Aguelhoc. No casualties reported.

21 January 2016: MINUSMA vehicle struck an IED on Ménaka – Ansongo transit route. No casualties reported.

23 January 2016: Unknown gunmen attacked the residence of the Public Prosecutor in Gao. A guard reportedly returned fire, killing one attacker.

28 January 2016: Malian military vehicle escorting humanitarian convoy struck an IED between Gao and Gossi. Three Malian soldiers killed.

28 January 2016: Malian Army vehicle came under attack by unknown gunmen at a checkpoint east of Timbuktu. One Malian soldier killed.

Additional Security Reporting and Analysis Related to Mali: 

  • The three AQIM/al-Murabitun members that carried the attack on Splendid hotel and Cappuccino restaurant in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso are believed to be Malian citizens.
  • On 15 January 2016, same day as Ouagadougou attack, Australian couple was kidnapped in Baraboulé, northern Burkina Faso on the borders with Mali. AQIM claimed responsibility.
  • On 25 January 2016 Malian forces claimed to have arrested four individuals in Kayes while traveling through Mali then through Niger to allegedly join Boko Haram. The suspects were a Gambian, a Guinean, and two from Guinea Bissau.
  • On 27 January 2016, reportedly the MLF distributed leaflets at local mosques in village Kewa, Mopti region. The message was to encourage local parents to send their children to Medrassas. In Mali Medrassa is often used to refer to traditional schools run by local chiefs or religious leaders, and there is no confirmation these schools are encouraging or being a source of radicalization.
  • AQIM and Ansar al-Din have stepped up their media presence by releasing high quality videos. Videos included images and recordings of held hostages and attacks against opposed armed groups in the region, like the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), and alleged images of destroyed French military vehicles. While many believes this is in competition with the rise of Islamic State, AQIM and allies are doing this mainly for recruitment purposes.
  • AQIM and allies while likely to continue to carry small scale attacks on foreign, peacekeeping, and Malian troops, suicide missions similar to Radison Blu and Splendid hotels attacks should be expected. The group demonstrated its willingness to wait as long as it takes to conduct spectacular attacks.