Map of Al Qaeda-linked attacks in Mali and Niger since 2014.
Five people have been killed by jihadists at a nightclub in Mali’s capital of Bamako. The assault was carried out with machine guns and hand grenades, according to the BBC. One Belgian, one French, and three Malian nationals were killed, with three Swiss nationals wounded in the attack, the first of its kind in Bamako. The number of attackers is unknown and the assailants were able to leave the scene. Two people were arrested in connection to the attack, but were later released, according to Malian media.
The jihadist group Al Murabitoon has claimed responsibility, according to Mauritanian news site Al Akhbar. Al Akhbar reported that it received a video from the jihadist group with “Khalid Abu al Abbas claiming the attack.” Khalid Abu al Abbas is the known nom de guerre of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran Al Qaeda commander from Algeria. The attack was said to be in response to the killing of jihadist leader Ahmed al Tilemsi.
Al Murabitoon was formed in 2013 from the merger between Ahmed al Tilemsi’s Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Belmokhtar’s Al Mulathameen Brigade. Both Belmokhtar and al Tilemsi are said to have ceded control of the Al Murabitoon to a commander who has waged jihad against both the Soviets and the US in Afghanistan. The group swears allegiance to Al Qaeda emir, Ayman al Zawahiri and a faction of MUJAO still operates independently in Mali under the control of Sultan Ould Bady. (For more on the founding of Al Murabitoon, see LWJ report Al Qaeda group led by Belmokhtar, MUJAO unite to form al-Murabitoon.)
On Dec. 11th, 2014, French special forces killed al Tilemsi in a raid in Gao. Gilles Jaron, a French Army spokesman, said that a dozen terrorists, including Tilemsi, were “neutralized,” a euphemism for killed, in a midnight raid. “Following an intelligence opportunity,” Gilles said, “French forces led an operation in the Gao region in coordination with the Malian authorities.” (For more on Tilemsi and his death, see LWJ report French troops kill MUJAO founder during raid in Mali.)
The jihadist group has been behind several operations in Mali and Niger since 2014. An attack on the border with Mali in Niger on Oct 30, 2014, left 9 Nigerien troops dead; Al Murabitoon assaulted a prison, a refugee camp, and a Nigerien patrol in the Tillaberi region of Niger. During the raid on the prison, several inmates were freed from their cells. An improvised explosive device (IED) detonated by the jihadist group near Ansongo wounded eight Nigerian peacekeepers on Jan. 4, 2015. Another IED was claimed by Al Murabitoon in Gao on Jan. 6, in addition to a rocket attack on Ansongo on the same day. (See map above for more details)
Jihadists in Mali and neighboring states have increased their operations despite an ongoing French-led counterterrorism mission. The al Qaeda groups in Mali appear to have regrouped and re-equipped in recent months. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa, has been behind several attacks in central Mali this year. One attack on a Malian military base left at least seven soldiers dead in Jan. Despite the increased activity in the central portion of the country and today’s incident in Bamako, most violence from Al Qaeda militants remains in the north.
Al Murabitoon’s video claiming the attack is below: