It was just a matter of time before jihadists in Mali began employing suicide bombers. Yesterday, a suicide bomber attempted to attack a military checkpoint in the town of Gao. The attacker failed to reach his target; he killed only himself and wounded a Malian soldier.
The attack was carried out by the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, which was added by the US to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in December 2012. Claiming yesterday’s attack, MUJAO told AFP that it would execute more suicide bombings against “the infidels and their accomplices.”
Up until last month, when France sent troops into northern Mali to prevent a jihadist takeover of the country, Gao was controlled by MUJAO. The group announced the creation of the “Islamic Emirate of Gao” and formed four “battalions” of fighters. The battalions were named after top al Qaeda leaders.
France 24 reported that yesterday’s suicide bomber had resided at a home that had been occupied by al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar and other top MUJAO leaders:
The young man who blew himself up on Friday had been living at a house in Gao that was known jihadist hideout. A guard at the home said that it had been visited three months ago by the one-eyed terror leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who claimed responsibility for the attack in Algeria on the BP-operated natural gas plant in which more than 37 people died.
Other jihadist leaders from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa – known as MUJAO – also had stayed in the luxurious two-story home with a verdant courtyard, which the militants took over when they captured Gao last year, the guard said.
Belmokhtar is the emir of the al-Mua’qi’oon Biddam, or Those who sign with Blood Brigade. He split off from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in December 2012 to form his new brigade, but he still reports directly to Ayman al Zawahiri and coordinated operations with AQIM [see LWJ reports, Belmokhtar claims Algerian raid, slaying of hostages for al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda central tightened control over hostage operations].
Expect to see further suicide attacks in Mali now that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, MUJAO, and Ansar Dine have been ousted from their strongholds in the major towns in northern Mali. They are following the playbook used by other al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (in Yemen), al Qaeda in Iraq, and Shabaab (in Somalia).
We noted in October that the terror groups had little chance of standing up to organized armies once they committed to the fight [see Threat Matrix report, Foreign jihadists continue to pour into Mali]. But, as we also noted in September 2012 and again the following month, the international community’s failure to take decisive action in Mali allowed the three groups to recruit, indoctrinate, and train fighters from West African countries that are not known to have a jihadist problem.
While everyone seems pleased with France’s ability to quickly retake northern Mali, little thought is being given to what happens afterward. France has signaled it does not want to maintain a long-term presence in the country, and has begun to withdraw some troops. The US and the UK are interested only in providing logistical and intelligence support, and perhaps some drones. Can the Malian and African troops withstand a terrorist insurgency? What happens when some of the jihadist fighters from countries such at the Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo, Guinea, and Senegal return home and attempt to set up cells?