Al Murabitoon claims Ansongo suicide attack

Al Murabitoon, a jihadist group loyal to al Qaeda in Mali, has claimed the Apr. 15 suicide attack in the Malian town of Ansongo. The attack left 16 people wounded, including nine Nigerien UN peacekeepers, and killed three civilians. The UN has said that the explosion occurred when a suicide car bomber tried to enter the UN camp but was stopped at the gates.

In an audio statement sent to the Mauritanian news service Al AkhbarAl Murabitoon said it was responsible for the attack. The group said that one of its fighters, identified as Ibrahim al Ansari, was tasked with targeting the UN camp and Nigerien troops specifically. The audio statement claimed that Nigerien troops were targeted because “their president, Mahamadou Issoufou, participated in the march in Paris in support of Charlie Hebdo.” It also said that it was fighting against the “establishment of a French and American war against the Mujahideen” in Mali.

In the same statement, the group also claimed various attacks in northern Mali. Al Akhbar has said that the recording will be uploaded to its site later today.

The offices of Charlie Hebdo were targeted in January by gunmen belonging to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen. Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, a senior AQAP official, claimed the attack as an order from Ayman al Zawahiri, and that the “emir of the operation” worked with Anwar al Awlaki. (For more on the attack and AQAP’s claim, see LWJ report, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claims responsibility for Charlie Hebdo attack.)

Al Murabitoon was also responsible for last month’s terrorist attack in Mali’s capital of Bamako. That assault by gunmen, which killed five people including Belgian and French nationals, targeted a Malian nightclub. In an audio statement also sent to Al Akhbar, the group said it carried out the attack as revenge for the death of one of its co-founders, Ahmed el Tilemsi. (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 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 2013. 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)

In early 2013, Al Murabitoon (at that time the Al Mua’qi’oon Biddam, or the Those Who Sign in Blood Brigade) said it an MUJAO launched suicide attacks in Niger that targeted a military barracks in Agadez and a uranium mine in Arlit that supplies French reactors. The Agadez attack was executed by a five-man suicide assault team; 18 Nigerien soldiers and a civilian were killed. A MUJAO spokesman said the attacks were in response to the killing of Abu Zeid, a senior al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb operative. (For more on this attack, see LWJ report, Belmokhtar’s unit participated in Niger suicide attacks.)

Attacks in Mali have remained commonplace despite a French-led counterterrorism mission in the country.

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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