Rocket attack on UN base in Kidal kills 3, injures 12

Map of Al Qaeda-linked attacks in Mali and Niger since 2014. 

Unidentified militants fired more than 30 rockets into the UN’s base in Mali’s northwestern city of Kidal today. The attack has left three people dead, including one Chadian peacekeeper and two Malian children, and more than 12 injured. According to the BBC, several rockets hit an adjacent camp for Tuareg and Arab nomads, killing the two children and injuring many others. A UN spokesman said that the attack was of a “very complex nature, in the sense that they used mortars and shells from different locations; from the north and south of the base,” according to Al Jazeera.

No group has yet to take responsibility for this attack, but al Qaeda-affiliated groups have conducted similar rocket barrages on UN forces in the past. On Jan. 17, suspected al Qaeda militants struck the Kidal base with a complex assault. Two suicide car combs and a rocket barrage left at least one Chadian peacekeeper dead. Last Oct, one Senegalese peacekeeper was killed in another rocket attack on the camp, which was also suspected to have been perpetrated by al Qaeda militants.

Last September, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa, launched several Grad rockets at the Timbuktu airport. Additionally, the jihadist group Al Murabitoon has conducted several rocket attacks in Mali’s north. On Jan 6, the group fired several rockets at UN forces near the northern town of Ansongo. Al Murabitoon has also taken responsibility for a similar barrage on the Timbuktu airport last February.

Al Murabitoon recently conducted a terrorist attack with an assault team in Mali’s capital of Bamako, the first of its kind there. Five people, including French and Belgian nationals, were killed in a machine-gun and hand grenade attack at a nightclub. Al Murabitoon claimed the operation was in response for the killing of Ahmed al Tilemsi, the co-founder of the group. Mauritanian news site, Al Akhbar, has uploaded a video of the group’s statement. (For more on this attack, see LWJ report Al Murabitoon attacks nightclub in Mali capital.)

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 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 al Qaeda groups in Mali appear to have regrouped and re-equipped in recent months, despite an ongoing French-led countererrorism mission. AQIM has been behind several attacks in central Mali this year. One attack on a Malian military base left at least seven soldiers dead in January. A few days later, AQIM attacked the nearby town of Dioura, killing one civilian. AQIM then assaulted a Malian military base in the nearby Teninkou, in a probing operation to test the response of the Malian military. AQIM attacked the base days later, killing three before retreating.

According to Malian media, AQIM has started to pursue a newer strategy for central Mali operations. The strategy includes challenging Malian forces in “mosquito-bite” attacks, before retreating into the Wagadou Forest. AQIM has pursued a similar strategy in the past, before being kicked out of the forest by Malian and Mauritanian forces in 2011.

Ansar Dine, a jihadist group led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, has also thought to have been behind some recent attacks in Mali’s north. On Jan. 9, seven Senegalese peacekeepers were wounded when their vehicle hit a landmine near Kidal. On Feb 24, a French soldier was also wounded after hitting an improvised explosive device (IED) with his vehicle near Kidal. While Ansar Dine has not yet taken responsibility for these operations, the group has been accused of laying the most mines and IED’s in the Kidal region. AQIM considers Ansar Dine to be its “local wing”; a letter written by AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdel was found in 2013 saying “pretend to be a domestic movement under Ansar Dine.” (For more on Ansar Dine, see LWJ report Ansar Dine leader resurfaces, urges expulsion of France from Mali.)

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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