JNIM claims ambush on French troops in Mali

The Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al Qaeda’s group in West Africa, claimed a deadly ambush on French troops yesterday. The assault, which occurred throughout the day, left one French soldier killed and two others wounded. It has also claimed the shelling of a French military base.

The French Ministry of Defense released a statement on April 6 detailing the events near the small town of Douna close to the border with Burkina Faso. The statement said that French troops based in Gao were conducting operations near the border with Burkina Faso to “restrict the freedom of action of terrorist armed groups and to affirm the presence of the Malian and Burkinabe security forces.” However, “on Wednesday 5 April 2017, around 16:30 local time (18:30 Paris), a light armored vehicle (LAV) engaged in this operation was attacked by an explosive device.”

The IED blast left two French soldiers wounded. Later that day, French engineers were deployed to the area to secure any additional explosives. As this was occurring, the soldiers were ambushed with small arms fire. The secondary attack left one of the French engineers dead, the ninth French soldier to be killed in Operation Barkhane.

JNIM’s statement largely coincides with the French statement. The jihadists said that an IED destroyed a French armored vehicle, while its forces ambushed French troops near the area later that day. However, the jihadist statement inflates the numbers of French troops killed and wounded.

The attack coincides with a large-scale Malian-Burkinabe-French security operation near the borders with Mali. Burkinabe authorities have stated that the operation is to clear Burkina Faso’s northern Soum Province, specifically the Fhero forest, of Ansaroul Islam, another jihadist group. According to Nord Sud Journal, between 150 to 200 members of Ansaroul Islam are based in the forest. The jihadist group has used the forest as a staging ground for attacks in both Mali and Burkina Faso.

Ansaroul Islam is allegedly led by an ally of Amadou Kouffa, the leader of Ansar Dine’s Katibat Macina. The French publication RFI has alleged that Kouffa radicalized Ansaroul Islam’s leader, Malam Ibrahim Dicko, in northern Burkina Faso.

In posts made on its Facebook page, Ansaroul Islam confirmed that Dicko has met with Kouffa. Jeune Afrique has reported that Dicko initially tried to link up with jihadist groups in northern Mali in 2013, but was arrested by French forces in Tessalit and then subsequently released in 2015.

Additionally, based on operations conducted by both it and JNIM, it is likely that Ansaroul Islam is also part of Al Qaeda’s new entity in West Africa.

In northern Mali, JNIM also claimed launching several Grad rockets into the Amachach base near the town of Tessalit in the Kidal Region. The Amachach base has long been a target for jihadists in Mali, including both Grad rockets and IED’s placed outside of the base.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of 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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