Map of al Qaeda-linked attacks in Mali and neighboring countries since 2014. Map made by Caleb Weiss for The Long War Journal.
The UN’s mission in Mali (MINUSMA) announced that six of its peacekeepers were killed after their convoy was attacked near the city of Goundam, which is just west of Timbuktu. At least five others are said to have been injured.
A statement released by MINUSMA said that its forces were the “target of an armed attack by unidentified men on [the] Goundam-Timbuktu axis 45 kilometers southwest of Timbuktu.” Two UN vehicles were destroyed in the attack. While the UN did not identify the nationalities of the peacekeepers, AFP has reported that the troops were from Burkina Faso.
MINUSMA stated that reinforcements are en route to Goundam to help secure the area and assist with the evacuation of wounded.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa, has claimed responsibility for the assault, according to the Mauritanian news site Al Akhbar. AQIM has been behind several similar attacks in the region in the past.
On May 28, AQIM killed three Burkinabe peacekeepers traveling in a UN convoy, also near Timbuktu. In Sept. 2014, AQIM took responsibility for several attacks on UN forces near Timbuktu. In Ber, east of Timbuktu, a suicide bomber killed two Burkinabe peacekeepers in August. Additionally, AQIM claimed an attack on MINUSMA convoys near Goundam and Timbuktu in June 2014.
The latest attack near Timbuktu comes just days after Ansar Dine, another jihadist group operating in Mali, took responsibility for two attacks in central and southern Mali. On June 28, several Ansar Dine gunmen entered the town of Nara, just 19 miles from the Mauritanian border, storming several government buildings and assaulting the local Malian Army camp. The incident left 12 people dead, including two Malian soldiers, one civilian, and nine jihadists. [For more information, see LWJ report, Jihadists attack Malian base near Mauritanian border.]
Additionally, Ansar Dine stormed, and briefly held, the small Malian village of Fakola, just miles away from the border with Ivory Coast. The attack, which had no reported causalities, was the second in less than a month near the border with Ivory Coast.
In the previous incident, suspected jihadist gunmen attacked a Malian police base near the border, 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. Ansar Dine did not claim this operation, but did claim the Fakola assault.[See LWJ report, Suspected jihadists attack Malian base near Ivory Coast.]
In its statement of responsibility, Ansar Dine said that it would “multiply the attacks in Ivory Coast, Mali and Mauritania, countries that work with the enemies of Islam.”
Ansar Dine is part of al Qaeda’s network in Mali. The jihadist group was formed in 2011 and throughout 2012 it worked with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, 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.
Al Qaeda continues to operate in Mali despite a French-led counterterrorism mission in the region. The jihadist group and its many affiliates in the country retain the ability to mount rocket, mortar, and IED attacks on UN and French forces. Over 50 UN peacekeepers have been killed in Mali since 2013, making it the most dangerous UN mission in the world.
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