The Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al Qaeda’s branch in West Africa, has claimed a deadly suicide assault on a Malian military base near the northern city of Gao. The attack left at least seven soldiers dead, another 17 wounded, while 16 soldiers have been reported missing. This is the second suicide bombing to take place in Mali’s Gao Region so far this year.
According to the Malian media, yesterday’s assault began with an attack on telecommunications towers near the locality of Almoustarat, north of the city of Gao. This allowed the jihadists to attack the nearby base without the military being able to quickly call in reinforcements. Shortly after that, the base was hit with a large suicide car bomb and then followed by several gunmen breaching the perimeter. The jihadists were able to capture at least three vehicles and large amounts of both weapons and ammunition before French troops arrived.
These details largely correspond with the statement released by JNIM. The statement says that the attack began with a “martyrdom operation” by a fighter identified as Ahmed al Ansari, while “a group of commandos followed him.” The fighters targeted the Malian military’s barracks, “burning it completely,” and ambushed other soldiers in the base. The jihadists withdrew after taking spoils.
In March, a Malian military checkpoint was targeted by suspected JNIM militants near Almoustarat. That assault left at least two soldiers dead and many others wounded.
In January, another suicide attack hit the Gao Region. In that strike, Al Murabitoon, now part of JNIM, targeted a Malian military base in the city of Gao, killing at least 50 people and injuring 100 others. [See Threat Matrix report, AQIM claims massive suicide attack on Malian base.]
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.
JNIM also claimed last week’s large-scale ambush near Nampala, in the south-central part of the country. After hitting an improvised explosive device, a Malian military convoy was ambushed with small-arms fire. At least eight soldiers were killed in the operation. JNIM’s claim largely fit the details given in news reports and even admitted that one jihadist was wounded in the assault.
So far this year, there have been at least 89 al Qaeda-linked attacks in Mali and neighboring countries according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal.