Category Archives: Timbuktu

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: 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.


Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 12.33.58 AM.png

Mali: November 2016 Violence Related to AQIM, Ansar al-Din, MUJWA, and Islamic State Branch in the Sahel

By Rida Lyammouri

January 31, 2017

Full PDF report could be found here:

Screen Shot 2017-01-31 at 11.57.43 AM.png


Mali: October 2016 Violence Related to AQIM, Ansar al-Din, MUJWA, Islamic State Branch in the Sahel and Other Security Incidents

By Rida Lyammouri

November 16th, 2016

  • There were at least 16 casualties and 21 injuries in violent attacks related to VEOs in Mali in October 2016.
  • Out of 18 attacks MINUSMA forces were targeted 5 times, Malian Army 8 times, Barkhane forces 3 times, 1 civilian vehicle [ambulance at Malian Army checkpoint], and 1 attack rockets were fired on the city of Gao.
  • At least 18 attacks related to VEOs operating in Mali in October 2016. Ansar al-Din officially claimed 7 out of the 18 attacks through its media arm al-Rimah, AQIM claimed 1 attack, and 10 attacks were unclaimed.
  • Ansar al-Din remains the main threat to French, Malian, and MINUSMA forces. Ansar al-Din threat is high and most likely to continue in Kidal Region and in Mopti Region through Macina brigade.
    • At least 11 Malian security forces members killed and at least 8 injured.
    • 2 MINUSMA peacekeepers killed and at least 7 injured.
    • 6 French soldiers injured and 3 civilians killed.
  • Number of attacks per region:
    • Kidal Region: 5
    • Timbuktu Region: 6
    • Gao Region: 4
    • Central Mali: 3
  • October 2016 witnessed worrying development, MUJWA splinter that pledged allegiance to so-called Islamic State in May 2015 claimed two attacks through Mauritania’s news outlet Attacks claimed took place in Niger and Burkina Faso.
  • Niger and Burkina Faso borders area with Mali witnessed at least 4 violent attacks related to VEOs.

FULL PDF REPORT: October Monthly Tracker 2016 for Mali

Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 11.06.54 AM.png

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.
Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 6.11.42 PM.png

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

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.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 3.36.56 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 3.40.03 PM.png

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.