Al Qaeda entity involved in communal violence in central Mali

Al Qaeda’s recently formed entity in West Africa, Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), claims that it was involved in recent communal clashes between Fulani and Bambaras in Mali’s central region of Segou. The jihadist group claims it killed “dozens” and wounded many more in the assaults.

Last week, tensions between Fulani herders and Bambara farmers flared again near the town of Niono. A young Fula herder was reportedly killed by Bambara farmers, which prompted a response from the Fula militia. According to local media, as the Fula militia was retaliating, jihadists from JNIM joined in on the side of the militia killing 10 Bambara. JNIM confirmed this report today on its Telegram channel, stating that it got involved in more clashes yesterday. It is unclear if more attacks occurred, or if the dates are wrong on the jihadist statement as the original strikes occurred on the 22nd.

“The Mujahideen clashed yesterday in the Macina region with Dozo militias [Bambara term for hunter] backed by the Malian army, which left dozens dead and wounded,” the statement said. JNIM also claimed to have captured motorcycles and weapons, while burning other vehicles. Stating that the Bambaras were “backed by the Malian army” was likely to justify its actions in the name of protecting the Fula and to downplay its role in the communal fighting. However, the Malian military has been deployed to the area to help control the situation.

Parts of JNIM, specifically Katibat Macina (also known as the Macina Liberation Front), is comprised of ethnic Fulani jihadists. Malian authorities have accused Fulani jihadists of stoking tensions between the Fula and Bambara in central Mali, as this is the second time in as many months tensions between the two ethnic groups have resulted in clashes.

In addition, JNIM claimed two other attacks in central Mali today. It claimed an IED assault on a Malian vehicle in the Mopti Region yesterday, which likely occurred near the town of Koina. It also claimed a strike on a Malian gendarmerie post near the town of Djenne, also in the Mopti Region. However, according to Menastream, local sources only confirmed the IED. Malian media has reported on the gendarmerie post being targeted, but details are scarce.

According to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal, this means there have been at least 60 al Qaeda-linked attacks in Mali and neighboring countries so far this year.

JNIM was formed earlier this month as a merger between  Ansar Dine, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) Sahara branch, Al Murabitoon, and Ansar Dine’s Katibat Macina. The group is led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, the former leader of Ansar Dine, and is openly loyal to Abdelmalek Droukdel, the leader of AQIM, and Ayman al Zawahiri. (See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Analysis: Al Qaeda groups reorganize in West Africa.)

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

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