Both the United States and the United Nations have added Iyad ag Ghali, the emir of the Mali-based, al Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine, to their lists of global terrorists. Ghali was instrumental in the takeover of northern Mali and has worked with al Qaeda to establish an Islamic state in the Sahel region.
The UN designation notes that Ghali’s group, Ansar Dine, is an affiliate of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) but that Ansar Dine itself has not been designated; similarly, the US notes the affiliation but has not added Ansar Dine to its terrorist list. The UN designation also mentions Ghali’s ties with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which has been designated by both the UN and by the US as a terrorist organization.
Ghali “cooperates closely with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,” the US State Department said in its designation today. He “created [Ansar Dine] in late 2011 because his effort to take over a secular Tuareg organization failed due to his extremist views.”
“Ghali has received backing from AQIM in [Ansar Dine’s] fight against Malian and French forces, most notably in the capture of the Malian towns of Agulhok, Tessalit, Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu, between January and April 2012,” State continued. “Before French intervention in January 2013, Malian citizens in towns that had been under [Ansar Dine’s] control who did not comply with [Ansar Dine’s] laws had faced harassment, torture, or execution.”
Despite his failure to take over the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), Ghali worked with the secular Tuareg separatist to seize control of northern Mali last year. After northern Mali fell, Ansar Dine, backed by AQIM and the Movement for the Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), quickly and easily brushed aside the MNLA and established sharia, or Islamic law, in the north. The French intervened in Mali in January only after the jihadist alliance pushed southward and threatened to capture the capital of Bamako.
Abdelmalek Droukdel, the emir of AQIM, saw Ansar Dine as a key component of his plan to use Mali as a base of operations for local, regional, and global jihad. Droukdel instructed his followers to mask their operations and “pretend to be a ‘domestic’ movement” so as not to draw international attention and intervention. Ansar Dine was to be the local face of the jihadist movement, while AQIM established training camps for external jihadist operations [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda in Mali sought to hide foreign designs].
After Ansar Dine, AQIM, and MUJAO took control of northern Mali, they enforced a harsh version of sharia and destroyed tombs and other Muslim shrines and heritage sites.
Additionally, the terror groups began recruiting and training foreign fighters, from West African countries such as Togo, Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Guinea, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast, as well as from other countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, and Pakistan.
Since the French invasion of Mali in January, Ansar Dine, AQIM, and MUJAO have lost overt control of the north, but have been waging an insurgency against French, Malian, and African troops. Twenty-three Chadian troops have been killed while fighting jihadists in a mountainous area in the north, and five suicide attacks have been reported since Feb. 9. MUJAO has claimed credit for four of the attacks. Prior to Feb. 9, no suicide attacks were reported in Mali.