Map of al Qaeda-linked attacks in Mali and neighboring countries since 2014. Map made by Caleb Weiss for The Long War Journal.
Jihadists have attacked, and briefly held, the small Malian village of Fakola, just miles away from the border with Ivory Coast on Sunday. The attack marks the second time in a month that jihadists in Mali have attacked close to the West African country. It is also the second jihadist assault in two days in the lower half of the country.
The Associated Press, quoting a local Malian official, said “armed individuals identifying as jihadists today attacked the village of Fakola. They came on motorcycles.” A Malian military police official said that the attackers carried the “black jihadist flag” and exclaimed “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is the Greatest,” during the attack. The AP also reported that the jihadists burned down many administrative buildings, and a building being used as a headquarters for the military police in the area. However, no military police personnel were in the city when the attack began.
No casualty numbers have been given at the time of this writing, however, the AP notes that the Malian army was able to regain control of the town after arriving on scene and driving the jihadists out.
This is the second attack this month to have taken place near Ivory Coast.
Earlier this month, suspected jihadist gunmen attacked a Malian police base near the Ivory Coast, leaving one Malian policeman dead and the base razed. While no group has yet to take responsibility, al Qaeda-linked groups are thought to have executed the assault. [See LWJ report, Suspected jihadists attack Malian base near Ivory Coast.]
Yesterday, several gunmen entered the town of Nara, just 19 miles from the Mauritanian border, storming several government buildings and attacking the local Malian Army camp. The attack left 12 people dead, including two Malian soldiers, one civilian, and nine jihadists. Sahara Media has reported that Ansar Dine has claimed the attack. [For more information, see LWJ report, Jihadists attack Malian base near Mauritanian border.]
Others have pointed at a group called the Macina Liberation Movement, which has perpetrated many attacks in central Mali this year. However, the Macina Liberation Movement is tied to Iyad Ag Ghaly, the leader of Ansar Dine.
Ansar Dine is considered to be part of al Qaeda’s network in Mali. The jihadist group was formed in 2011 and throughout 2012 it worked with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and Tuareg separatist groups to take over Mali’s north. A confidential letter written by AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdel that was found after the liberation of northern Mali stated that AQIM fighters should hide their activities under the banner of Ansar Dine. A leader of Ansar Dine was also recently killed alongside the emir (leader) of AQIM’s Katibat al Ansar in a French special forces raid in northern Mali.
While most jihadist attacks are located in the north, many attacks have taken place in the lower half of the country this year. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa, has undertaken several attacks in central Mali and near the Mauritanian border. Additionally, the jihadist group al Murabitoon has undertaken several attacks in Mali’s capital of Bamako. The attacks include an assault on a Malian nightclub, which killed five people, an attempted assassination on a Malian general, and an attack on UN troops. (See map above for more details.)
Al Murabitoon, which was formed from the merger between MUJAO and veteran al Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Al Mulathameen Brigade, has suffered defections to the Islamic State. While Mokhtar Belmokhtar has denied he and his group defected, it has became apparent that parts of the MUJAO faction of Al Murabitoon have left the group. [See LWJ reports, Confusion surrounds West African jihadists’ loyalty to Islamic State and Alleged statement from Mokhtar Belmokhtar denies his group swore allegiance to the Islamic State.]
Al Qaeda continues to operate in Mali despite a French-led counterterrorism mission in the region. The jihadist group and its many affiliates in Mali retain the ability to mount rocket, mortar, and IED attacks on UN and French forces. Forty-nine UN peacekeepers have been killed in Mali since 2013, making the country the most dangerous UN mission in the world.