A jihadist attack on a town and military camp near the Mauritanian border in central Mali has left 12 dead, including two Malian soldiers, one civilian, and nine jihadists.
Several gunmen entered the town of Nara, just 19 miles from the Mauritanian border, storming several government buildings and attacking the local Malian Army camp early Saturday morning. Reuters quoted a local resident that said “gunfire could be heard several hours after the clashes began.” The report also stated that the Malian military was able to regain full control over the town by midday. A Malian official told the wire news service that the jihadists’ “methods indicate an infiltration in advance and a well planned operation.”
Another Malian military official has said that the jihadists appear to be ethnic Fula and connected to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa. “For two days intelligence has indicated the presence of small groups of Islamists traveling in several pick-ups,” he continued in the Reuters report.
Al Akhbar, the Mauritanian news service, reported that while the jihadists stormed many governmental buildings, they were not able to succeed in their attempt to breach the military camp. Neither Reuters nor Al Akhbar named any group as being behind the attacks, although one Malian official told Reuters that the Macina Liberation Movement could be responsible. The Macina Liberation Movement, which is more than likely another name for al Qaeda in the region, has mounted several attacks in central Mali since April.
However, Sahara Media reported that Ansar Dine has claimed the attack. The news site said a leader from the group contacted the site, but gave no further details on the operation. The aforementioned Macina Liberation Movement is believed to be connected to Iyad Ag Ghaly, the leader of Ansar Dine.
Ansar Dine is considered to be part of al Qaeda’s network in Mali. The jihadist group was formed in 2011 and throughout 2012 the group worked with AQIM, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and Tuareg separatist groups to take over Mali’s north. A confidential letter written by AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdel that was found after the liberation of northern Mali stated that AQIM fighters should hide their activities under the banner of Ansar Dine. A leader of Ansar Dine was also recently killed alongside the emir (leader) of AQIM’s Katibat al Ansar in a French special forces raid in northern Mali.
While most jihadist attacks in Mali are located in the north, several attacks have occurred in central and southern Mali this year. AQIM has been behind several attacks in central Mali this year. On Jan. 5, AQIM attacked the town of Nampala near the Mauritanian border (see map above). The attack, which lasted for about seven hours according to Reuters, killed seven Malian troops. Days later, AQIM attacked the town of Teninkou, killing two Malian soldier and one civilian.
In March, the jihadist group al Murabitoon assaulted a nightclub in the capital of Bamako, killing five. Last month, two Bangladeshi peacekeepers were wounded after a suspected Murabitoon attack on a UN base in Bamako. The jihadist group also took responsibility for an attempted assassination on a Malian general in the capital in January. The group also confirmed it is holding a Romanian hostage, who was taken from a mine in Burkina Faso. [For more on these attacks, see map above.]
Al Murabitoon, which was formed from the merger between MUJAO and veteran al Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s Al Mulathameen Brigade, has suffered defections to the Islamic State. While Mokhtar Belmokhtar has denied he and his group defected, it has became apparent that parts of the MUJAO faction of Al Murabitoon have left the group. [See LWJ reports, Confusion surrounds West African jihadists’ loyalty to Islamic State and Alleged statement from Mokhtar Belmokhtar denies his group swore allegiance to the Islamic State.]
Earlier this month, suspected jihadist gunmen attacked a Malian police base near the Ivory Coast, leaving one Malian policeman dead and the base razed. While no group has yet to take responsibility, al Qaeda-linked groups are thought to have executed the assault. [See LWJ report, Suspected jihadists attack Malian base near Ivory Coast.]
Al Qaeda continues to operate in Mali despite a French-led counterterrorism mission in the region. The jihadist group and its many affiliates in Mali retain the ability to mount rocket, mortar, and IED attacks on UN and French forces. Forty-nine UN peacekeepers have been killed in Mali since 2013, making the country the most dangerous UN mission in the world.