Over the weekend, al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) claimed a series of attacks across Mali, continuing its recent uptick in activity. Most notably, the group took credit for a dubious suicide bombing attempt on French troops near the northern city of Timbuktu
“Continuing its earlier vow to escalate its operations throughout Mali against the French Crusader occupation and its tails in the region, and after the monitoring and surveying a regular patrol of the French army in Timbuktu city, the heroic seeker of martyrdom Abdullah al Barboushi al Ansari was able to detonate his car bomb on this patrol,” JNIM said in a Feb. 15 statement.
JNIM said the explosion, which occurred on Feb. 9, destroyed a French vehicle and killed five soldiers. However, neither the French government nor any independent source have confirmed that claim. In fact, local media reported that as the vehicle approached Timbuktu’s entrance, French forces neutralized the vehicle.
Photos do appear to show a burned vehicle, but it is unclear if the bomber detonated the vehicle intentionally or French forces caused the explosion.
JNIM attempted to provide an explanation for why there was no corroboration of its side of the story, saying that “immediately after the attack, an entire French convoy rushed to establish a security cordon and thus prevent anyone arriving to the scene or photograph it.”
The jihadist group then accused the Macron government of lying, using reports of the death of one of its founders, Amadou Koufa to demonstrate that France “is not ashamed to lie.” JNIM has previously denied Koufa’s reported death.
The group also provided a photo of the supposed bomber (above), which superimposed the jihadist before the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. This was meant to further tie its recent operations to the Israel-Palestine conflict, as it did earlier this year in a suicide bombing in Aguelhok.
Interestingly, the would-be bomber was a member of the Berabiche Arabs of Timbuktu. JNIM and its predecessors have long courted this community on the ground and in its propaganda.
In addition to the disputed bombing, the jihadist conglomerate also said it was responsible for multiple attacks in central and northern Mali. That included an ambush on Malian troops in the central Mopti region on Feb. 12.
It then said it targeted the Imghad and Allies Self Defense Movement (GATIA) and the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA) alliance, a grouping of pro-Bamako Tuaregs, in the northern Menaka region on Feb. 13.
JNIM and its predecessor groups have claimed attacks on Tuareg militias in the past, however, the GATIA-MSA alliance has been the main target for the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) in northern Mali. Since last year, the alliance and ISGS has fought each other and committed atrocities against the respective communities of each group in both Mali and Niger.
Its last claim was again directed at MSA, saying its men targeted a commander within the militia near Talataye in the Gao region on Feb. 15. MSA’s Facebook account appeared to confirm that both of these attacks did indeed take place, however, the group said that the officer survived the assassination attempt.
Despite JNIM’s claim of an apparent failed suicide bombing against French troops in Timbuktu last Friday, the group does indeed remain a potent threat to both French forces, as well as Malian and UN troops inside the country.