AQIM claims massive suicide attack on Malian base

Reported perpetrator of today’s attack.

A suicide bombing claimed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the northern Malian city of Gao has left at least 50 people dead and nearly 100 others wounded. The bombing is one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Mali’s history.

AQIM said in a statement that the group’s Murabitoon battalion, which is led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, executed the attack. Their claim said that a suicide bomber, identified as Abdul Hadi al Fulani, detonated within a joint French-UN military base “killing 80.” Reuters also reported that the bomber ran over several people before detonating his vehicle. It has been difficult to verify details following the attack, including casualty numbers. Malian media reported that five suicide bombers were involved, but AQIM claimed their so-called martyr acted alone. Reports have varied from 40-70 deaths.

The individual that AQIM claims carried out the attack was also reportedly involved in an earlier suicide assault in Gao on Nov. 29, 2016. If AQIM’s statement is accurate, that means the perpetrator survived the prior assault and returned to conduct another – or he was not involved in the first attack.

AQIM also warned the French and Malian militaries, as well as pro-government militias, in the statement.

“We will not allow the establishment of barracks and headquarters, or the conducting of patrols and convoys belonging to the French occupiers,” the statement read. This is a reference to the target of today’s attack, which was the garrison of the Operational Coordination Mechanism (Mécanisme Opérationnel de Coordination, MOC).

The MOC is the result of a UN peace deal in which former Tuareg rebels are to conduct joint patrols with pro-government militias in order to reduce local tensions in northern Mali. The MOC forces, which have yet to conduct these patrols, are based in Gao and are trained by French and UN forces. Hundreds of these fighters were reportedly present in the base at the time of the attack, which explains the high casualty number.

Last year, the country saw six suicide bombings, with most occurring in Gao. The commercial hub of Gao – with a population of nearly 90,000 – was captured by Ansar Dine, an AQIM front group, in 2012 and held for nearly 10 months before it was reclaimed by French military forces in Jan. 2013.

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

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