The Silent Spread of Terror in Mali

Despite some notable counterinsurgency successes, Mali remains highly unstable, with extremist attacks taking place since the beginning of the year beyond the usual theater of operations in the country’s northern areas, threatening its neighbors.

Posted on 08/24/15
By Bat-el Ohayon | Via Daily Maverick
The Mauritanian army recently conducted a major counter-terror operation in Mali. (Photo by Magharebia, Creative Commons License)
The Mauritanian army recently conducted a major counter-terror operation in Mali. (Photo by Magharebia, Creative Commons License)

The resurgence of militancy in Mali and the push towards central and southern areas has been taking place since the beginning of the year, and as such the August 7 attack against the Byblos hotel in Sevare targeting United Nations (UN) workers should not have been a surprise to most. Until this incident, the resurgence and increasing threat posed by jihadist groups in Mali’s central and southern regions was not given enough attention, and as such its regional consequences have largely been underreported, despite jihadists’ clearly stated intention to attack neighboring countries.

 

On June 30, terrorist group Ansar Dine claimed responsibility for two notable attacks in Mali that took place several days before, one on the border with Mauritania, and the other close to the southern border with Côte d’Ivoire in Fakola and Sikasso. Both of the attacks are significant in that they occurred beyond these groups’ usual theatre of operations and were reportedly carried out in coordination with local groups, including the Massina Liberation Front (FLM), giving the terror organization increased geographical and social reach. These terrorist cells have proven that they are capable of carrying out small targeted attacks as well as larger well planned and more complicated ones, all the while evading the Malian, French and UN troops. This has caused an important shift in the ongoing counter-insurgency efforts in Mali, with militants demonstrating growing influence, bold tactics and the ability to operate in almost every region of the country.

 

Lastly, as was made evident by the claim of responsibility for the Byblos attack by a man representing the FLM, who is known for having been tied to infamous smuggler and jihadi leader Mokhtar BelMokhtar as well as Ansar Dine, cooperation and direct links between these terrorist entities cannot ruled out. Put together, these developments signal that the fight against jihadists is far from over in Mali, with the spillover likely to increase and thus prompt security forces to readjust their approach once more.

 

These threats and the resurgence of militancy can in part be explained by the current situation in Mali, where a preliminary peace agreement was finally reached between the Bamako government and the Tuareg separatist rebel Coalition of Azawad Movements, as pro-government militias gained political and de facto power in the country’s northern regions. While this was going on, Islamist activity persisted, particularly targeting UN locales and personnel and slowly seeping past their usual theatre of operations into Mopti and other more central and border regions, approaching the national capital, Bamako. Thus, while most of the government and troops were busy attempting to quell growing rebel-led and intra-rebel violence, militant groups understood that this was their chance to operate under the radar, and test the boundaries of the security forces’ capabilities.These security measures evidently failed, as attacks in Bamako and other areas were successfully carried out.

 

Click here to read the complete article at Daily Maverick.

Bat-el Ohayon is President of AfriqueConsulting Group, a Sub-Saharan Africa focused consultancy that produces multilingual continent wide analysis on political trends, economic trajectories, market opportunities, threats to business and security. Follow her @Bateloh.

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