Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed two attacks that occurred yesterday which targeted the airports of Timbuktu and Gao in northern Mali. The jihadist group claimed a suicide attack in Gao, while a rocket barrage targeted a French base at the Timbuktu airport.
In Gao, a suicide car bomb detonated at a checkpoint close to UN facilities at the airport. No one was killed in the blast, but nearby UN buildings were badly damaged. According to Reuters, the car bomb was able to make it past checkpoints at the entrance of the airport. “A U.N. security source said that the attackers had passed through the regular checkpoints by using vehicles with a U.N. label,” the wire news service reported.
Al Murabitoon, a battalion of AQIM which has been led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, was quick to claim the assault on social media. The last successful suicide bombing in Mali was on May 31, also in Gao perpetrated by Murabitoon. In that assault, one Chinese peacekeeper was killed. The assault began with a suicide bombing by a local Malian fighter, while three others, identified by AQIM as two locals and one foreigner, then breached the perimeter killing three other people. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Al Qaeda has launched more than 100 attacks in West Africa in 2016.]
Recent reporting has suggested that Belmokhtar was recently killed by a French airstrike in southern Libya. This has not been confirmed by either independent reporting or a statement from AQIM. If it is confirmed, then the suicide bombing in Gao shows that Murabitoon still has the capabilities to coordinate attacks.
In Timbuktu, grad rockets were fired at the French military base at the airport. It is unclear if any rockets actually landed in the perimeter of the base, but AQIM did release several photos of the incident on social media. The photos show the jihadists setting up and firing the rockets in the Malian desert. AQIM has conducted several rocket or mortar attacks on military bases in the Timbuktu Region. Last month, several mortars were fired into the UN camp in Ber. Last year, AQIM claimed an extensive rocket barrage that also targeted the Ber camp.
Elsewhere in Mali, Ansar Dine, which is a largely Tuareg front group for AQIM, claimed an IED attack on French forces near Abeibara in the Kidal Region on Nov 27. The jihadist group has claimed at least a dozen other similar strikes in Abeibara on French forces this year. Additionally in Kidal, a vehicle from the nominally pro-Bamako militia GATIA struck an IED near Kidal city earlier today. At least five members were killed in the blast that is suspected to be the work of Ansar Dine.
So far in 2016, Mali and the wider West African region have seen at least 228 al Qaeda-linked attacks. Much of these have occurred in Mali’s north, but over 40 have been in the southern part of the country. At least 19 incidents have occurred in neighboring states such as Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria, and even the Ivory Coast. This represents a significant increase in the al Qaeda-led insurgency in northern Mali since last year, which has also spilled over the borders more frequently than the prior two years.
Photos released by AQIM showing the Grad rocket barrage in Timbuktu: