JNIM claims mortar barrage on UN forces in Timbuktu

Photo released by JNIM showing the shelling of the UN’s base in Timbuktu

The Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al Qaeda’s branch in West Africa, has claimed a mortar barrage on UN peacekeeping forces in the northern Malian city of Timbuktu. Four peacekeepers were wounded, while three Malian soldiers were also wounded in a near simultaneous barrage.

In the early morning hours of May 15, JNIM launched several mortars into the main UN base near the airport in Timbuktu. The surprise attack left at least four Burkinabe peacekeepers wounded, while some sources indicated the number may be higher at six. Around the same time, mortars were fired into Malian army positions in the town of Kabara, just south of the Timbuktu airport. Local sources reported that at least three soldiers were wounded in that barrage.

Monday’s barrage came just a week after a similar attack left one peacekeeper dead and around a dozen others wounded in the same camp. Last week, one Liberian peacekeeper was killed and nine others wounded after JNIM launched mortars into the camp. The Swedish military contingent in Mali, which is also largely based in the Timbuktu camp, reported that at least three of its soldiers were injured in the attack.

Al Qaeda’s forces have long targeted foreign troops in Timbuktu and the wider region. Earlier this year, AQIM’s Sahara branch – which is now part of JNIM – claimed an attack targeting the Timbuktu airport with Grad rockets. Last year, the branch targeted the French military base in Timbuktu. In 2014, both AQIM and Al Murabitoon targeted the airport. The UN base in Ber, which sits just east of Timbuktu, has also been targeted in the past.

The UN’s camps in Kidal, Aguelhok, Tessalit, as well as the French Amachach military base near Tessalit, are also often targeted by mortar or rocket barrages. Earlier this year, one Chadian peacekeeper was killed in a rocket assault on the UN camp in Aguelhok.

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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