In a rare attack in Mali’s south, suspected jihadist gunmen have attacked a Malian police base near the West African country of Ivory Coast. The attack left one Malian policeman dead and the base razed. While no group has yet to take responsibility, al Qaeda-linked groups are suspected to be the perpetrators. Most jihadist attacks occur in Mali’s north, but several attacks have taken place in the central and southern portions of the country this year.
Voice of America, who has cited an unnamed security source in Mali, has reported that “about 30 gunmen waving a black flag and shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) had arrived on motorbikes at the base in Misseni in the Sikasso Region early on Wednesday.” The report went on to cite a Malian official who confirmed the attack had taken place. At least three other attacks have taken place in southern Mali so far this year.
In March, al Murabitoon attacked 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)
Confusion has surrounded al Murabitoon recently, as a leader of the group, Adnan Abu Walid al Sahrawi, pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and the Islamic State. However, shortly after this audio was released, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran al Qaeda commander and leader within al Murabitoon, released a statement denying he or his Al Mulathameen Brigade pledged to the Islamic State. [For more information, 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.]
Al Murabitoon was formed in 2013 when the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Belmokhtar’s Al Mulathameen Brigade joined forces. The aforementioned Sahrawi is a former spokesman for the MUJAO group. Soon after Sahrawi’s message was released, it became clear that he was speaking on behalf of either MUJAO or a part of MUJAO, and not Al Murabitoon as a whole.
Additionally, 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. 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. A jihadist group known as the Macina Liberation Movement, which is more than likely another name for al Qaeda in the region, has also mounted several attacks in central Mali since April.
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. Thirty-five UN peacekeepers have been killed in Mali since 2013, making the country the most dangerous UN mission in the world. [For information on these attacks since 2014, see the map made by The Long War Journal above.]