Jihadists attacked a UN base in Mali in the northern city of Kidal this morning, killing three and wounding a number of others. Two of those killed were UN peacekeepers from Guinea, according to Reuters. The other victim is said to have been a civilian contractor who worked at the base.
The assault began early today when jihadists fired rockets and mortars into the camp. “We have three dead and four seriously injured,” a UN spokesperson told Reuters. He noted that around 20 people in total were injured and needed medical evacuations.
Ansar Dine, an al Qaeda-affiliated group led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, claimed responsibility in a phone call to Agence France-Presse (AFP). The French news service quoted a spokesman for Ansar Dine as saying it was “in response to the violation of our lands by the enemies of Islam.”
Jihadists have targeted the UN base in Kidal on multiple occasions in the past. In March, rockets struck the facility, killing a Chadian peacekeeper and two civilians.
On Jan. 17, suspected al Qaeda fighters assaulted the Kidal base using two car bombs driven by “martyrs” and a barrage of rockets. At least one Chadian peacekeeper died as a result.
Last October, one Senegalese peacekeeper perished when rockets landed in the camp. Fighters belonging to one of al Qaeda’s groups in the region were probably responsible.
While rocket and mortar attacks on UN bases in northern Mali are relatively common, the rounds often do not make it into the base. Jihadists fired mortars at the UN camp in Aguelhok on Sept. 24, but no damage was reported. Similar attacks occurred on July 25 and June 16.
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. Al Murabitoon, which is loyal to al Qaeda, has conducted several rocket attacks in Mali’s north as well. On Jan. 6, the group struck UN forces near the northern town of Ansongo. Al Murabitoon has also claimed responsibility for a rocket barrage on the Timbuktu airport last February.
Earlier this month, a pair of jihadists stormed a hotel in Mali’s capital, taking more than 100 people hostage before being killed in a joint raid led by Malian forces.
The aforementioned Al Murabitoon said it was responsible in conjunction with the “Sahara Emirate” of AQIM, according to a statement sent to Al Jazeera. Another jihadist group, the Macina Liberation Movement (MLM), has said it participated in the assault on the hotel as well. This indicates that the MLM likely conducted the operation in conjunction with Al Murabitoon. The two previously claimed an assault on a hotel in Sevare in August. MLM is also a front group for Ansar Dine.
AQIM views Ansar Dine as its local arm in Mali. In a “confidential letter” found in Timbuktu in early 2013, AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdel instructed his followers to mask their operations and “pretend to be a ‘domestic’ movement” under Ansar Dine in an attempt to evade international attention. A leader of Ansar Dine was killed alongside the leader of AQIM’s Katibat al Ansar in northern Mali earlier this year.
Ansar Dine and Katibat al Ansar, an AQIM battalion, are known to operate in the Kidal region. Katibat al Ansar was formed in 2010 by Tuaregs from Mali and Niger who did not want to serve under the command of Algerian al Qaeda leaders.
Despite France’s intervention in Mali in early 2013 and current counterterrorism mission in the region, al Qaeda and its allies continue to launch regular attacks. Over 50 UN peacekeepers have been killed in Mali since 2013, making it one of the most dangerous UN missions in the world.