West African jihadists flock to northern Mali

AFP reports on a disturbing trend in northern Mali, where al Qaeda-linked jihadists from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, Ansar Dine, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have been in control since February. Foreign jihadists from West African countries such as Togo, Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Guinea, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast are filling out the ranks of the jihadist groups. A Nigerien is identified as a combat commander. AFP also identifies Egyptians, Algerians, and Pakistanis among those operating in northern Mali:

Perhaps the most startling thing about these fighters along this frontier route is that nearly all of them are from sub-Saharan Africa rather than the Maghreb.

“Me too, I am surprised,” Nigerien Hicham Bilal, who is leading a katiba (combat unit) to Gao, admitted to AFP. “Every day we have new volunteers. They come from Togo, Benin, Niger, Guinea, Senegal, Algeria and elsewhere.”

Since all of them want to go to war, Bilal said, the fighters are no longer divided into separate Islamist movements.

“We are all mujahedeen,” he declared. “Here, there’s no more MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa), Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith) or AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb).”

A young Ivorian, clearly a new recruit, boasted: “We are ready for battle. We are waiting for the French or African troops to arrive.”

And residents of Gao, the largest city in northern Mali, report that

two training camps for new recruits have been established, according to AFP.

Seven months after the jihadist alliance seized northern Mali, the United Nations, the European Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and countries such as Algeria are still debating on whether to deploy forces to northern Mali.

Unfortunately, this delay has given the jihadists an opportunity to train and organize recruits from the West African nations. Don’t be surprised if you see reports that fighters from Mali are returning to their home countries to establish networks there.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Al says:

    While the West’s leaders fiddle away. These people are already in the US.
    In the late 80’s at an Interior Dept. “location”, where my wife worked, a “black” convert to Islam was busted for running a terror camp in PA. He was fired from his Govt. job in NJ, but she never found out what happened to him.

  • Paul D says:

    These are young guys who are jobless and need a purpose in life and seek early death as they are not happy with their lives.Its simply a suicide cult!

  • Will Fenwick says:

    The longer ECOWAS delays the more dangerous the situation will become. Each additional day Ansar Dine and MUJAO are allowed to rule northern Mali sees their strength and numbers grow. The growth of MUJAO is extremely startling, it started out as a minor splinter faction of AQIM a few years ago and was very small. It now rivals and probably exceeds AQIM in size.
    It not entirely clear how much heavy weaponry and materiel that the Malian army left in the area is being operated by the Salafists, but the longer the delay in beginning an offensive against them the more time they have to repair ex-Malian equipment and entrench themselves.
    Most ECOWAS nations have pitiful air forces and weak armies, i imagine the French will have to provide the majority of air support for any sustained campaign. We saw how AQAP was able to go toe to toe with the Yemeni Army, i expect a similar drawn out conflict near Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao now that the Salafists have had time to recruit and arm themselves.
    Its also a bit odd that the Salafis haven’t attempted expanding further south or east into the Niger frontier. Though i expect that their lack of advancement as of late has helped give them time to build up their forces since they don’t immediately threaten any of the neighboring countries. Perhaps they have learned from AQAP’s mistakes when they attempted to push towards Aden instead of consolidating their positions in the east of the Yemen.

  • Tony Buzan says:

    The issue with ECOWAS should not be ignored here.
    What is highly likely in the next 18 months should ECOWAS arrive like the Kenyans with guns blazing, is that Nigerian MEND recruits (the majority from the Ibo tribe in the Niger delta) to this jihad in Mali, remember the genocide of Biafra at the hands of the ancestors of the Lagos constituent of ECOWAS.
    And those memories reignited could send the entire continent into flames in a New York hurry.
    We need to have more analysts that understand the basics of geography, anthropology and history to avoid catastrophic failures.
    Libya caused Mali.
    Now the same group of decisionmakers that brought us the Libyan transaction are trying to sell the idea that their strategy in Mali is somehow competent.
    But I ain’t buying it.
    We need to hit the books as a nation, because our people have forgotten everything.
    America is the complete opposite of the Balkans. Nobody remembers anything.
    Let’s branch out and learn together, study together and talk together so that we bring better risk management to both the planet and our national interests.


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