Abdul Rahman al Sanhaji (center), Sharia official for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s Sahara branch, as seen in the video.
A new video produced by the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al Qaeda’s group in West Africa, detailed last year’s deadly raid on a Malian military base in the southern town of Nampala. The video is the first major production for the group since its founding earlier this year.
The first segment of the video detailed purported Malian government crimes and corruption across the country, while also chastising the French forces in the country for their alleged support and complicity. The majority of the video is focused on combat, however, with a makeshift training camp also shown.
The video highlighted the July 19, 2016 mass-casualty attack in Nampala, which killed at least 17 soldiers and wounded more than 35 others. The base was assaulted from multiple directions, according to Malian officials, then confirmed by the video. Additionally, a secondary ambush targeted Malian troops attempting to withdraw to safety in the nearby town of Diabaly. The base briefly fell to the attackers, but was quickly regained by the Malian military. [See Threat Matrix report, Malian military base targeted in southern Mali.]
At the time of the raid, both Ansar Dine and a local Fulani militia claimed responsibility. Malian media also reported that forces belonging to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) were present during the battle. The video released yesterday confirmed that multiple groups took part in the fighting. The release also confirmed much of the reporting at the time, as the jihadists are shown pillaging the base, taking captives and equipment, and then leaving the area.
At least one senior leader of AQIM’s Sahara branch was present to oversee the battle. Abdul Rahman al Sanhaji, a Sharia official for the branch, was featured predominantly, giving a speech to the militants before the assault. In the speech he noted that Arabs, Tuaregs, Bambara, and Fula fighters all gathered as one to overtake the base. Another member also spoke to explain that many foreign fighters were also gathered.
The battle happened prior to the merger that would form JNIM, however, it is likely that the foundations were already laid prior to this assault. Sanhaji would later be present in the video that announced the creation of JNIM, further raising the significance of his presence at the battle.
JNIM was formed earlier this year and includes several Malian-based jihadist groups that were already within al Qaeda’s network. This includes AQIM’s Sahara branch, Ansar Dine, Al Murabitoon and Ansar Dine’s Katibat Macina (also known as the Macina Liberation Front). JNIM is led by veteran Tuareg jihadist, Iyad Ag Ghaly, and is openly loyal to Abdelmalek Droukdel, the leader of AQIM, and Ayman al Zawahiri. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Analysis: Al Qaeda groups reorganize in West Africa.]
Screenshots from the video:
Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.