UN, Malian forces retake police base captured by jihadists

The UN’s forces in Mali, MINUSMA, and the Malian military have recaptured a UN police base in the ancient city of Timbuktu after suspected jihadists overran it earlier today. The fighting was believed to be fierce, but a Malian commander is reportedly the only fatality in the operation.

According to Reuters, approximately 6 militants drove up to the base at dawn and detonated a vehicle-born improvised explosive device (VBIED), before breaching the perimeter and taking control of the base. However, the UN said that the base, which is used by a Nigerian contingent of the UN’s forces in Mali, was nearly empty at the time of the attack. A UN policeman was “slightly” injured as a result of the explosion, according to a statement released by the UN, and was able to flee before being taken captive.

The UN then launched a joint raid with the Malian military to retake the base. Three attackers were killed in the operation, while a fourth detonated himself during the clashes. One Malian commander was killed during the operation, while three other soldiers were wounded, according to the UN statement.

No jihadist group has yet taken responsibility for the attack, but it is likely militants from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are behind the assault. AQIM, which is al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa and in the Sahel, has been behind a plethora of attacks in and around Timbuktu since being ousted from the city in 2013.

Earlier last month, AQIM captured Beatrice Stockly, a Swiss missionary who was previously held hostage by al Qaeda in 2012. AQIM claimed responsibility for her kidnapping in a video released last week, in which the jihadist group said they would release her in exchange for their fighters being released from prison. One fighter specifically requested was Ahmed Ould al Faqi, who also goes by Abu Turab. Al Faqi, who was a commander in AQIM’s Tuareg front group Ansar Dine, is being held in the Netherlands and has been charged by the International Criminal Court for conducting war crimes in Timbuktu.

Last year, AQIM conducted at least 11 attacks in and near Timbuktu. That includes wounding three UN peacekeepers when their vehicle hit an IED nearby Bourem on May 28. Additionally, six Burkinabe peacekeepers were killed when AQIM ambushed their convoy by Goundam, another neighboring town, on July 2. Two days after AQIM’s video was released last week, a Malian soldier was killed in an ambush at a checkpoint near Timbuktu.  (See map of al Qaeda-linked attacks in Mali by The Long War Journal above, for more information.)

Caleb Weiss is a research analyst at 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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