Monthly Archives: May 2016

Fulani Refugees at M’berra, Mauritania, Chased by Malian Army

By Rida Lyammouri

May 20th, 2016

After rising to prominence in early 2015 the Macina Liberation Front (MLF) became popular for executing civilians suspected to have collaborated with the Malian forces. The  MLF also repeatedly targeted Malian forces in central and southern Mali, especially in Mopti region. However the Malian Army mishandled the situation and responded by conducting acts of abuse against civilians from Fulani community. Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released in February 2016 highlighted number of these acts from both sides. The recent violence between Bambara and Fulani communities was inevitable. The following comments recorded in May 2015 by Fulani families and notables indicates the seriousness of the issue that was never addressed. While majority of observers and journalists attribute violence in central Mali to the MLF, this appears to be more like settling accounts between armed Fulani and Malian Army. [I will talk in detail about this in a different post]

Note: Transcription is a full translation word by word and not being modified. I do have the full video but I only included screenshots. The recording is about 4mn06s. I am aware recently screenshots from this video circulated on social media speculating an MLF video to come out. This video has nothing to do with the MLF, but more about extractions against civilians and tensions between Bambara and Fulani communities.

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Video title

Video Title: “Fulani Refugees at M’berra, Mauritania, Chased Out by Malian Army”

Fulani notable: “Malian State started something that could not be tolerated. The way they started treating Fulani people will have consequences against them. I am calling all Fulani community in Mali, from Kayes to Kidal. Either the state [Malian] will chase us, or we will achieve our goal. We invite all Fulani of Macina and Nampala to wake up, either we will chase the Malian Army out or they will eradicate us. We can’t understand that we have inherited this land from out ancestors so that the Malian government and France would occupy us. We all have to fight to the last of us standing. Either we win this fight or loose. The cohabitation of Fulani and Bambara communities has ended; they will reap what they sow [get what they deserve].”

Fulani woman: “It’s a conflict imposed by the Malian government that brought us here. Malian Army stole our goods, tortured and executed our men. The Army left us nothing, stole our jewelry, our money, etc. They have arrested me with a Marabout (Modibo Gualel). They [captives] have all been shot or tortured and beaten by rifles. These are marks [showing her hands] when they put handcuffs on me all the way to Nampala.”

“Before were Tuareg and Maures [Arabs], and now Fulani. They [Fulani] became a project for the Malian Army. They kill us, torture us, steal our goods, and poison our wells. What’s left? So they want to kill us as well as our animals, and leave with the rest.”


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Short Assessment on Violent Extremism Threat in Burkina Faso

By Rida Lyammouri

May 18th, 2016

In less than a year Burkina Faso experienced attacks by different extremist groups, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Macina Liberation Front (MLF) or Ansar al-Din south, and al-Murabitun of Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui. Attacks on Burkina Faso reported to be carried by foreign nationals but recent report of Burkinabe leader within Ansar al-Din confirms recruitment efforts by extremist groups in the country. However this does not necessarily indicate a trend of radicalization among Burkina Faso population.

Compared to neighboring countries in the Sahel Burkina Faso have been relatively peaceful. However there is a noticeable increase of attacks and kidnappings conducted by violent extremist organizations (VEOs) operating in the area. In less than a year two kidnapping incidents and at least four violent attacks were registered in the country. On 04 April 2015, al-Murabitun while still have ties with the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) kidnapped a Romanian security officer from a mine in Tambao near borders with Mali and Niger. The hostage remains in hands of Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui branch that pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State in May 2015. On 15 January 2016, an Australian couple was taken in Baraboule, also near the Malian border. The abduction was claimed by AQIM, the husband remains in caption while the wife was released in Niger days later.

The attack on Splendid Hotel and Cappuccino restaurant was the deadliest on Burkina Faso soil and garnered most of the media coverage. The incident took place 15 January 2016 when members of AQIM conducted suicide mission downtown Ouagadougou, killing 29 and injuring 100. In the same day at Tin Akoff near borders with Mali, suspected jihadists killed two gendarmes. The Australian couple was also abducted the same day. On 23 August 2015 a police station was attacked in the Oudalan region on the borders with Mali and Niger where al-Murabitun under Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui is suspected to operate. Three police officers injured in the attack. On 09 October 2015 three gendarmes killed in an attack by unidentified gunmen but suspected to be members of the MLF or Ansar al-Din south. Reportedly there is now an Ansar al-Din branch in charge of operations inside Burkina Faso borders, and is led by a local identified as Boubacar Sawadogo. His name surfaced after the arrest of suspected number two man of Ansar al-Din south, Khalid Ibn al-Walid brigade, identified as Yacouba Touré. Yacouba Touré was reported to be in charge of supplying weapons to other members of the group in Mali but also in Burkina Faso.

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Splendid hotel after 15 January 2016 attack, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Source: AFP

Violent extremist organizations (VEOs) are posing real threat on Burkina Faso, especially on the borders with Mali and Niger. Security installations are the main target as 17 May 2016 incident demonstrated. Two policemen injured and attackers remain at large. Trend of attacking security forces likely to continue, as groups will seek to seize weapons and also to undermine local authorities. Armed groups will also exploit opportunities of kidnapping foreign nationals for ransoms. Furthermore, these types of attacks are an attempt to garner popularity among local population for recruitment purposes. However local communities in Burkina Faso have demonstrated more resilience to extremism than its neighbors. For instance, during my visit earlier this month I was told that local population and local religious figures recently stood up against a radical preacher in Djori, north of the country on the borders with Mali. To maintain and duplicate this type of resilience, Burkina Faso government and its local and international partners has to tackle grievances addressed by local population after recent political transition. This is important because VEOs in the region will continue to seek alternative refuge and sanctuary in countries like Burkina Faso due to increased pressure from French, MINUSMA, and Malian forces in Mali.

Moroccan Authorities Should be Praised and Not Criticized!

By Rida Lyammouri

May 17th, 2016

13 years after Casablanca attacks, Moroccan authorities did a tremendous job keeping violence off the country and its people and visitors safe, so thank you!

On May 13, 2016 Moroccan authorities dismantled a jihadist cell in Tangier with ties to the so-called Islamic State. This would have been a routine and incident local and foreign observers became accustomed to. Cells with ties to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are dismantled in Morocco every month. However the fact that the main suspect was of Chadian citizenship it brought the issue to a whole different level and got more attention. Interior Ministry of Morocco stated that the suspect arrived from Chad to Morocco May 4th, 2016 with plans to establish an Islamic State branch east of Morocco, and was assigned to recruit and train Moroccans and Algerians attracted to ISIS jihadist ideology.

Surely there are a lot of questions to be asked about this arrest and about the information provided by Moroccan authorities but clearly local forces are not taking any chances. Initial investigations and video revealed that the suspect was in possession of plastic bags, powder and liquids used to make explosives. Additional items recovered in his apartment included pressure cooker, batteries, electric cables, metal balls, and armored vests designed to carry explosives. Investigators also discovered printed documents on how to build explosives, and video recordings of potential targets in Tangier, Morocco. Targets included hotels, military installations, security forces, and western diplomatic missions present in the country. Statement also said the suspect was able to gather all the information and materials with assistance from other members of the cell while no information were revealed about other suspects. To encourage recruitment the cell was aiming at kidnapping and executing members of local forces, in addition to foreign nationals.

These are images of items found at the suspect’s apartment.

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Video of strategic locations in Tangier

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Items used to build explosives

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Armored vests

The suspect was flagged and put under surveillance since his arrival to Morocco May 4th, 2016 to Casablanca international airport Mohammed V. Maybe a stretch but this could indicate ISIS will attempt more to depend on foreign recruits or sympathizers, notably from Sahel countries, to carry attacks in Morocco. Most of homegrown ISIS supporters traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS, while majority of remaining domestic cell been cracked down by local authorities. This incident came couple weeks after Islamic State branch in Grand Sahara based in northern Mali released first statement threatening to target Moroccan forces, foreign interests, and peacekeeping members operating in southern Morocco. This is not the first time Morocco claimed to dismantle cells with ties to Sahel jihadist groups. In November 2012 Moroccan Interior Ministry announced that it has dismantled a jihadi recruiting cell that sent fighters to fight in northern Mali. In December 2012 Morocco also claimed that at least 20 fighters traveled to Mali to join the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA).

Claims by local authorities in Morocco are difficult to confirm because of limited information shared with the public. Even Moroccans living in Morocco finding it hard to believe there is serious threat in the country. The availability of weapons and explosives is also something majority of Moroccan don’t take seriously. I used to have the same perception but that changed when gunfire exchange woke me up early in the morning December 2003 when a cell was dismantled by local security forces in my parents’ neighborhood. That was first time I ever-heard gunshots in my life and happened while visiting my parents at my hometown, Meknes. This incident was just six months after the Casablanca synchronized attacks of May 2003. The cell dismantled was planning attacks on local MacDonald and a Luxury hotel in the city. This incident and others were not widely reported as it is the case today with social media and international interest. That was also thirteen years ago when today’s jihadist groups in the region were non-existent. Today they are well connected, more organized, and more equipped than ever before.

Still fresh in everyone’s memory Morocco was already taking necessary steps to prevent other attacks similar to Casablanca, and threat was real. Morocco’s efforts were not limited to the use of force. During my next visit in 2005-06 I found out that some countering violent extremism (CVE) work was already in place to prevent radicalizing more youth. Next to my parents’ complex authorities [maybe with foreign partners] built a mosque, a youth community center, and soccer and a basketball court to occupy disadvantaged youth. During same visit I also found out, unfortunately, that someone I knew from same neighborhood traveled through European country to Iraq where he conducted a suicide attack with his wife, so there was a lot of work still to be done.

These examples from more than a decade ago demonstrate that threat in Morocco existed long before ISIS. Threat was there before international community and observers started paying attention in 2011-2012 when the country emerged as one of main exporters of fighters to jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, and way before “foreign fighters” term became so sexy and money making. Until now Moroccan authorities succeeded at preventing violent attacks on the Moroccan soil. The approach is working and nations struggling are seeking their collaboration and assistance, especially European countries. ISIS and other extremist groups will continue to make efforts and exploit any opportunities to attack Morocco. However for now Moroccan authorities should be praised, and not criticized, for keeping violence out of the country.

Every summer before booking my trip to Morocco my wife asks me if it’s safe. My response of course is yes, it’s safe. Things could happen anywhere of course as we witnessed in more developed countries with more sophisticated security forces. But for now I am able to go every summer to enjoy my vacation and to visit my family. And this is true also for thousands of tourists, including those questioning claims and efforts made by Moroccan forces.


My Daughter enjoying peaceful view over the Mediterranean




Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui Threatens Morocco

By Rida Lyammouri

May 7th, 2015

Al-Jazeera Arabic reported on 04 May 2016 to have received an audio recording from so called Islamic State in Grand Sahara. Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, leader of the group and who pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in May 2015, delivered the statement. Abu Walid al-Sahraoui called to attack the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) posts in the area. In addition to attacking Moroccan forces and western organizations, the statement also called on targeting western tourists present at different resorts throughout Morocco. Abu Walid al-Sahraoui encouraged all Muslims present on the land of Maghreb to pledge allegiance and join the Islamic Caliphate.

The timing of this statement came after long period of silence by Abu Walid al-Sahraoui. Since pledging allegiance to Islamic State the group went into hiding and have not conducted any notable attack. Abu Walid al-Sahraoui’s men are believed to be holding Romanian hostage taken from Burkina Faso in April 2015. While threats are to be taken seriously, it is worth noting that the group operated mainly in Gao region on the borders with Niger and maybe in central Mali on the borders with Burkina Faso. Thus is unclear how much access and capabilities al-Sahraoui’s men have to seriously threaten southern Morocco.

Certainly the name of Abu Walid al-Sahraoui draw a lot of attention between Moroccan and Algerian media outlets. When the statement was released the focus should have been on the group and threats it poses in the region. However Moroccan and Algerian media were quick at jumping at this to draw their non-founded analysis like here and here.

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Image of Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui

If confirmed this is first appearance of Abu Walid al-Sahraoui since he pledged allegiance to Islamic State in May 2015. Although El Watan, Algerian newspaper, reported on 17 June 2015, citing unnamed security officials, that Abu Walid al-Sahraoui had been wounded in armed clashes with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Violent clashes were never confirmed by additional sources and supposedly were result of tensions caused by Abu Walid al-Sahroui defection with group of his fighters from al-Qaeda to Islamic State. Abu Walid al-Sahraoui was one of key leaders of AQIM offshoot, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA). For more on this see my post published in December 2015.

Neither MUJWA or AQIM, or so-called Islamic State in Grand Sahara conducted violent attacks in southern Morocco despite notable concerns due to the occupation of northern Mali by jihadist groups in 2012. The only notable incident close to the area is the kidnapping of three humanitarian workers in October 2011 from Tindouf camp in Algeria. The kidnapping was later claimed by MUJWA.

This is not the first time a jihadist group released a threat message to Morocco. However Morocco remains the only North African country not to experience violent attacks by cells operating under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Important number of Moroccan fighters joined jihadist groups in Libya, Syria, and Iraq. In response Morocco implemented several new policies and program to reduce threat of returning fighters. Moroccan authorities also dismantled important number of armed cells tied to Islamic State.


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

By Rida Lyammouri

May 1st, 2016

Background: 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). The Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), French, and Malian forces remain the main target. However civilians remain vulnerable against armed robberies, especially in central and northern Mali.

Key Takeaways and Stats for April 2016:

  • 20 VEO related incidents took place in Mali.
  • Similar to first three months of 2016, Ansar al-Din was responsible for most of VEO attacks conducted in Mali.
  • 1 incident likely conducted by MUJWA occurred on the Nigerien soil on the borders with Mali.
  • At least 10 armed robberies in northern and central Mali including vehicles of individuals, of non-government organizations (NGOs), and of private company. This disrupts movement of people and goods in remote areas in the region.
  • April 2016 was highlighted by the kidnapping of four members of International Community for the Red Cross (ICRC). Fortunately were all released unharmed.
  • Three French soldiers killed after their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device (IED) near Tessalit.
  • French forces are increasing pressure on AQIM and Ansar al-Din in the extreme north of Kidal Region on the borders with Algeria.
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Four ICRC employees kidnapped and released by Ansar al-Din. Source: Twitter

Additional Comments:

  • On 14 April 2016 Ivorian interior minister stated that a total of 83 suspects tied to Grand Bassam hotel attack been arrested since then. Also said that 16 of them had direct involvement with the attack while ongoing search for other members is taking place in Mali.
  • Local witness reported that on 13 April 2016 a civilian taken by Ansar al-Din 30 March 2016 30km north of Kidal was released.
  • Sahara Media reported that on 03 March 2016 French forces clashed with suspected members of Ansar al-Din / AQIM in Boughessa, Kidal region. Five militants reportedly killed while vehicles and weapons seized during the operation. French forces have been conducting in recent weeks important counterterrorism operations in the north of Kidal near borders with Algeria. For more on the importance of Kidal Region to AQIM and Ansar al-Din see here and here.
  • Insecurity in Timbuktu region persists despite the presence of French, MINUSMA, and Malian forces. Concern is not only about AQIM and allies but there is an increase in armed banditry in the area, especially between Timbuktu and Goundam. This is having an impact on local economy while merchants are traveling less due to insecurity.
  • Malian security forces reported on 22 April 2016 to have arrested AQIM man who masterminded Radisson Blu and other attacks. The suspect was identified as Fawaz Ould Ahmeida, an unknown member of the group of Mauritanian nationality.

Chronology of AQIM, Ansar al-Din and VEO Related Incidents

01 April 2016: Ansar al-Din launched rockets on MINUSMA camp in Aguelhoc, Kidal Region. Ansar al-Din claimed responsibility.

04 April 2016: Two gunmen targeted Douentza deputy. The assassination attempt failed but one civilian killed.

07 April 2016: Reportedly, French forces killed five militants from an unknown group in Boughessa area on the borders with Algeria. The area is an Ansar al-Din and AQIM brigade al-Ansar stronghold.

07 April 2016: MINUSMA vehicle struck an IED between Taghlit and Igheghar, Kidal region. Ansar al-Din claimed the attack.

08 April 2016: MINUSMA vehicle struck an IED near Taghlit. Ansar al-Din claimed the attack.

10 April 2016: Unknown gunmen attacked MINUSMA convoy of seven vehicles on Timbuktu – Bambara Maoudé – Douentza transit route. Three civilian contractors [drivers] reportedly injured and three vehicles burned.

12 April 2016: Three French soldiers killed after their armored vehicle struck an IED while traveling from Gao to Tessalit, Mali. Ansar al-Din claimed responsibility.

12 April 2016: Three mortars fired at MINUSMA camp in Ansongo. Reportedly mortars missed target and no physical or human damages recorded.

12 April 2016: unknown gunmen ambushed Chadian soldiers of MINUSMA in Aguelhoc. No casualties reported.

12 April 2016: Civilian vehicle struck an IED in Aguelhoc. One civilian killed.

12 April 2016: A young kid of 13 years old lost his arm when remaining of explosives exploded in his hand in Tessalit.

11-12 April 2016: French forces of operation Barkhane clashed with suspected jihadists near Boughessa. Two vehicles belonging to AQIM or Ansar al-Din recovered. Note: This incident could be related to 07 April incident when French forces reportedly killed five suspected members of Ansar al-Din or AQIM.

13 April 2016: Suspected members of the MLF carried an attack on Malian forces checkpoint in Boni, central Mali. Ansar al-Din spokesman claimed the attack and stated that at least five Malian soldiers killed and others injured. Malian security sources said on the other hand one attacker killed and five arrested.

12 April 2016: MINUSMA vehicle struck an IED on Tessalit – Aguelhoc transit route. Local witness said two killed and one injured.

15 April 2016: French forces and Ansar al-Din clashed in Abeibera, Kidal region. An Ansar al-Din member identified as Atta Ag al-Mehdi was reportedly killed.

15 – 16 April 2016: Ansar al-Din kidnapped four ICRC local staff. One was released immediately and the three others freed on 22 April 2016.

22 April 2016: A MINUSMA driver died from sustained injuries from a previous IED explosion last week. Radio Aadar Koima

23 April 2016: Two Malian soldiers killed and one injured in an ambush on Timbuktu – Goundam route. Ansar al-Din claimed responsibility.

26 April 2016: Mortars fired at MUNISMA camp in Kidal. Ansar al-Din claimed responsibility.

28 April 2016: Suspected MUJWA members attacked Nigerien forces on the borders with Mali north of Tahoua region. One gendarme killed and two injured.

29 April 2016: Local witness reported armed men attacked NGO workers near Doro, 45km south of Gao. Two injured during the attack, the supervisor is still missing, and two vehicles burned.

Chronology of Key Arrests and Other Notable Violent Incidents

04 April 2016: Reportedly members of Ganda Izo and Ganda Lassal Izé exchanged fire near Bourem. Two reportedly killed.

04 April 2016: Malian forces arrested a Nigerian citizen suspected to be a member of an unidentified VEO operating in central Mali. The suspect was identified as Nazim Abou, an engineer with possession of compromising documents.

07 April 2016: Reportedly, Malian forces arrested seven individuals suspected to be members of an unknown jihadist group at Haboité village, on the borders with Mauritania. Important ammunition and arms supposedly also recovered. Comment: Reportedly, two of the suspects killed when the eight escaped from custody. The remaining six were re-captured.

07 April 2016: Allegedly, Malian forces killed and arrested unknown number of suspected jihadists in Gao region. The operation was conducted jointly with French forces.

11 April 2016: Members of the platform allied with the Malian government exchanged fire with members of the CMFPR2 of the CMA. Causes of the incident are unclear but this indicates the difficulty to control armed members from both sides.

20 April 2016: Reportedly, one killed and one injured in armed assault in Dioura, Tenenkou commune, Mopti region. Radio Kounari de Sévaré. Local witness reported to be ethnic tensions between Bambara and Fulani members and that casualties was higher than what was reported, seven.

Chronology of Armed Banditry and Other Security Incidents

04 April 2016: Three gunmen seized ambulance that belongs to community health center (CSCOM in French) in Timbuktu.

10 April 2016: Unknown gunmen assassinated son of former Tessalit deputy, Hamdy Ag Baye in Borj Badji Mokhtar, Algeria. The son was identified as Aziz Ag Baye Hamdy, his father was also assassinated in January 2015 that AQIM claimed responsibility for.

13 April 2016: Local witness reported unknown gunmen killed two Tuareg civilians returning from local market 60km of Gossi, central Mali.

16 April 2016: Armed bandits targeted school director and abducted his motorcycle before letting him go. The incident took place between Ansongo and Tessit, the victim is director of local school at Temera, and the attackers allegedly were speaking Fulani. Radio Aadar Koukia

17 April 2016: Vehicle of SATOM abducted by unknown armed men on Goundam – Timbuktu route. Radio Bouctou

19 April 2016: Dozens of armed bandits robbed a local merchant between Dogofri and Léré, central Mali. Bandits seized unknown amount of fuel, seven solar panels, cash, and one cellphone. Radio Issa Ber

20 April 2016: Four armed men attacked and robbed CSCOM at Garbakoira village, 35km from Diré. The attackers looted the pharmaceutical depot. No victims or injuries reported. Radio Alfarook

21 April 2016: A civilian traveling on a camel killed by two unknown gunmen in Goundam. Radio Djimba Bodo  

24 April 2016: A member of unidentified group killed while trying to plant an IED on Gao – Ansongo route. The individual supposedly mishandled the IED. Radio Aadar Koukia

26 April 2016: Two vehicles taken by two armed bandits found at Inekar, near Ménaka. Drivers rescued by locals while bandits escaped when both vehicles got stuck in sand. The two vehicles belong to Gaakoy Company. Source: Radio Koukia