By Rida Lyammouri
April 24th, 2017
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.