Jihadists launch assaults on UN, Malian forces in northern Mali

Video released by pro-al Qaeda media group, “Descendants of Tariq bin Ziyad,” showing the attack in Kidal

One week after briefly seizing control of a UN police base in Timbuktu, jihadists launched an assault on the UN base in the northern Malian city of Kidal. Additionally, Malian troops were ambushed outside of Timbuktu. Ansar Dine has claimed the attack in Kidal, but no group has yet to claim the ambush.

This morning, the UN base in Kidal came under a combined assault from mortars, gunfire, and at least one suicide car bombing. The UN has reported that eight mortar shells hit the base, which has left at lease five peacekeepers from Guinea dead and 30 others wounded. A spokesman for the Tuareg separatist umbrella group, the Coordination of Azawad Movements, has told Reuters that “the Kidal attack had been conducted by Islamists.” Ansar Dine, a Tuareg front group of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM),  has claimed the attack in a statement released online.

The base in Kidal has been targeted by jihadists several times in the last two years. On Oct. 7, 2014, the base was hit by rockets in which one peacekeeper from Senegal was killed. On Jan. 17, 2015, suspected al Qaeda militants struck the Kidal base with a complex assault. Two suicide car bombs and a rocket barrage left at least one Chadian peacekeeper dead. In March, militants from Al Murabitoon fired more than 30 rockets into the UN’s base in Mali’s northwestern city of Kidal, killing one Chadian peacekeeper and two children.

In November, Ansar Dine launched rockets into the camp killing two Guinean peacekeepers and one civilian contractor at the base.

Additionally, three Malian soldiers were killed and three others wounded when their vehicles were ambushed between Timbuktu and the nearby town of Goundam today. One vehicle was also reportedly stolen from the scene. A spokesman for the Malian military claimed the attack was perpetrated by jihadists, according to the AFP. No group has taken responsibility for this ambush, but AQIM has been responsible for most attacks near Timbuktu, including last week’s assault on the police base.

Last year, AQIM conducted at least 11 attacks in and near Timbuktu. That includes wounding three UN peacekeepers when their vehicle hit an IED nearby Bourem on May 28. Additionally, six Burkinabe peacekeepers were killed when AQIM ambushed their convoy by Goundam, another neighboring town, on July 2. Two days after AQIM’s video was released last week, a Malian soldier was killed in an ambush at a checkpoint near Timbuktu.  (See map of al Qaeda-linked attacks in Mali by The Long War Journal here, for more information.)

Earlier this week, jihadists also conducted two attacks near the border with Burkina Faso. Yesterday, a customs office in the central Malian town of Hombori fell under attack. Jeune Afrique has reported that jihadists arrived in the town in two trucks and opened fire on the office, killing one officer and two civilians. On Feb. 9, three Malian troops were killed when their vehicle hit an IED near the town of Mondoro.

Jihadist attacks remain a constant threat in Mali despite both a UN peacekeeping force and a French-led counterterrorism mission in the region. While still mainly concentrated in the north, al Qaeda and its allies, including the ethnic Fulani front group Macina Liberation Movement, have been able to exploit the weak security and consistently penetrate in the southern half of the country. This has also allowed the threat to spill over Mali’s borders and into neighboring countries like Burkina Faso and Niger, both of which have seen attacks from Malian-based jihadists within their borders.

Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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