By Omar. S.Mahmood
April 27th, 2016
On April 1st, Nigerian security forces in the central state of Kogi arrested Khalid al-Barnawi, a prominent jihadist figure and presumed leader of the Boko Haram offshoot Ansaru. Despite uncertainty regarding his recent status, Barnawi’s detention is one of the more substantial in the course of Nigeria’s battle against Islamic militancy, and has already began to bear fruit with the arrest of his deputy twelve days later. At the same time, the event also raises questions regarding Ansaru activities in the three years since its last major attack, and its status vis-à-vis Boko Haram.
Barnawi is a pseudonym for Usman Umar Abubakar, a mid-40s militant from Borno state who served as a founding member of Boko Haram. Barnawi reportedly trained with Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Algeria, maintaining “close” links with Mokhtar Belmokhtar and the organization thereafter. Following his return to Nigeria, Barnawi planned kidnapping operations against foreign nationals, and was allegedly involved in the 2011 bombing at the UN headquarters in Abuja, among other violence. Barnawi was linked to Ansaru’s emergence in January 2012, and following the March 2012 death of founder Adam Kambar, who had also trained Algeria, Barnawi emerged as the sect’s new leader.
By Rida Lyammouri
April 20th, 2016
Reportedly, they were four staff members of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) initially kidnapped, and one was released and three currently remain in the hands of Ansar al-Din. Ansar al-Din reportedly claimed responsibility of the kidnapping.
The abduction of ICRC staff is overshadowed by Kidal protests although both are partially connected. French forces have been conducting an agressive operation around Abeibera village where ICRC employees disappeared the night of 15 – 16 April. Because of security and traveling in Kidal region ICRC staff always hire local guides to assist. However ICRC team lost their guide because he was arrested by Barkhane for unknown reasons until now. After the arrest and while the team was heading back to Kidal city, unknown individual in a motorcycle intercepted their vehicle and asked them to follow him. He claimed that a community representative would like to meet with them. While one ICRC employee is released, the three remaining are believed to be held by Ansar al-Din , a group with strong access to local communities in Kidal Region as I discussed in previous post. It’s also know that Ansar al-Din collaborate closely with AQIM brigades operating in the area, including al-Ansar and Youssuf Ibn Tachefin brigades. Ansar al-Din is reportedly demanding the release of ICRC guide arrested by Barkhane.
There are more questions than answers at this point. Why the kidnappers are asking the release of ICRC guide? While this could mean ICRC staff are held by members other than AQIM or Ansar al-Din but Ansar al-Din claiming responsibility is confusing. The group in recent months been relying on its media outlet Rimah to release official statements. However this claim was communicated through a phone call to AFP office in Bamako, made by a member of the group identified as Nourredine ag Mohamed as RFI and Sahara Media reported. In exchange to release ICRC staff Ansar al-Din is demanding the release of Miyatène ag Mayaris, ICRC guide arrested by French forces sometimes between 13 – 15 April.
Since ICRC members kidnapped are highly likely Malians, Ansar al-Din is not asking for ransom. There are no information about the outcome of the staff if Ansar al-Din demands are not met. To stay positive and optimistic, execution is not likely to occur since staff are local and will not serve the group’s image within local community. True Ansar al-Din have executed locals, but in different circumstances since were accused of directly being involved in the fight against jihadist groups. Unlike ICRC staff that are there to help and population in need due to absence of basic services in the area.
Some questions to think about. Was the guide one of Ansar al-Din? Maybe that’s why Barkhane arrested him in first place? The whole thing is unclear and there are many things happening that we don’t know about and we will never know.
I have friends and family members working for ICRC around the world and I pray for their safety everyday as much as I do for those taken in Mali or anywhere in the world.
ICRC Office in Gao, Mali. Source: Maghreb and Sahel Blog.
By Rida Lyammouri
April 17th, 2016
On 10 April 2016 an article quoting Algerian security sources claimed members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) joined the so-called Islamic State (IS) in south Libya. Security investigators indicated that this was a result of existing tensions among AQIM. According to the article, 10 drug and weapons traffickers in northern Mali and southern Niger arrested recently in south Algeria reported that more than 14 terrorists from AQIM branch Grand Sahara branch under Yahya Abu al-Hammam joined IS in south Libya in mid-March 2016. The article added that the defectors were mostly Mauritanians with 4 Algerians. These defectors were not happy about who is going to replace Abdelhamid Abu Zeid who was killed in February 2013 in northern Mali.
This information doesn’t make sense and here are few reasons I could think of why on top of my head:
- The main source is a group of drug traffickers from northern Mali and south Niger. Drug traffickers unlikely to make a difference of who is who and they are not interested to know because simply they don’t care, they are all about business and tensions among AQIM is non of their business to avoid any risks of getting in the mix. While northern Malian traffickers are more or so familiar with AQIM, traffickers from south of Niger not so much.
- AQIM leaders are very secretive and very careful. Often there is little to no information about the group and its leaders except on what themselves wanted to report or discovered and shared by state forces. AQIM members know drug dealers are not to be trusted and will give them away to save their lives when necessary, so unlikely, even if true, even those defected to join IS in Libya will share that information with them.
- Previous allegiances pledged by AQIM brigades that defected to IS were announced by their respective leaders. A major move coming from an AQIM brigade that is making most of the noise for the group in recent months wouldn’t go unnoticed and would have been reported by more than just 10 traffickers arrested.
- While rumors and articles talked about concerns of IS in Libya moving south there has been no evidence to confirm that. So there is no IS branch in south Libya that the article claimed defected AQIM members have joined.
- The replacement for Abu Zeid was named in September 2013 and was identified as Said Abou Moughatil. So if there were any tensions maybe were three years ago.
Said Abou Moughatil. Source: Jeune Afrique
By Rida Lyammouri
April 1, 2016
Boko Haram, the so-called Islamic State branch in west Africa, released a new video on 31 March 2016. This video came after Abubakar Shekau released a video where he appeared weak and defeated. In last week video, unlike previous ones, Shekau was not as animated as he used to. While Nigerian and regional forces repeatedly claimed the group have collapsed and been defeated, Boko Haram spokesman in the video stated that the group remains intact in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and on the Nigerien borders. This despite all the meetings and collaboration between different countries to defeat Junoud al-Khilafa. Spokesman went to deny everything that it was said on the media, and fellow Muslims should not believe what was reported. Then confirmed that Boko Haram remains under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau. He concluded by providing support to IS supreme leader calling him Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Qurchi.
Boko Haram spokesman did not have the same charismatic and animated delivery as Shekau. He was not as confident and struggled constructing sentences throughout the video. Of course the video has been taken down but I have a copy available upon request. Important things said in the video are added above but I am adding few screenshots of the video. Also including an image where a kid was hiding behind the tree before running away when last vehicle with rocket launcher drove by.
You can clearly see a kid on top left corner behind the tree running away.
By Rida Lyammouri
April 1st, 2016
Violent extremist organizations (VEOs) operating in Mali remain determined to disrupt efforts by Malian government and its partners to stabilize the country. VEOs currently operational in Mali include Ansar al-Din, the Macina Liberation Front (MLF), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA or MUJAO). In March however, Ansar al-Din was the most active, claiming 6 out of the 17 attacks. All groups appear to maintain foothold in their areas of operations, while attacks on neighboring countries demonstrate increased collaboration, and intention to expand, especially AQIM.
The Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), French, and Malian forces will remain the main target. However VEOs will continue to target any suspected collaborators with the Malian and foreign forces, including members of armed groups, like the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA).
Since the French intervention AQIM and allies relied mainly on the use of improvised explosive devices (IED), this tactic continued in March, 9 incidents IED related attacks. Same trend was observed in recent months, and most likely to continue in coming months. AQIM and allies will also attempt to conduct attacks similar to Grand-Bassam and Ouagadougou for publicity and recruitment. Worth noting increased armed robberies in northern Mali, I recorded at least 15 armed robbery for March alone, and this likely to continue largely due to access to weapons, economic hardship among youth, armed former rebels, tribal tensions, and lack of permanent presence and regular patrols by security forces in remote areas.
Stats about March 2016 VEO attacks in Mali:
- A total of 17 VEO related attacks.
- Ansar al-Din claimed 6 out of the 17 attacks.
- There were 9 attacks when IED was used. 3 against MINUSMA, 2 against Malian forces, 1 discovered by MINUSMA, 1 against Barkhane, 2 against civilians.
- Casualties: 6 MINUSMA peacekeepers injured, 8 Malian soldiers killed and 1 injured.
- 3 out of the 17 attacks targeted Malian security forces, either a checkpoint or a military post.
- 2 out of the 17 attacks used rockets or mortars. 1 targeted military camp in Tessalit, and 1 targeted mobile camp of Barkhane near Kidal.
- 1 attack on EUTM in Bamako.
- Assassination: 1
- Kidnapping: 1