Jihadist leader in Mali denies reports of his death

Kouffa (center) as seen in last week’s video.

One of the co-founders and senior leaders of al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), Amadou Kouffa, denied reports of his death in a video published by the group. The French and Malian governments claimed Kouffa was killed last November, however, JNIM has consistently denied these reports.

The video is formatted as an interview between Kouffa and representatives from JNIM’s Al Zallaqa Media and its parent organization – Al Andalus Media of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – and is meant to serve as visual proof that Kouffa is indeed alive. JNIM had previously denied his death in an earlier statement but offered no evidence at the time.

“The reality is that this confusion is on the part of the government of a state described as a ‘powerful state’ with the veto power in their Security Council – which is astonishing and causes everyone to ask questions,” Kouffa said when asked to comment on the reports of his demise.

He continued: “Especially since we are in an era of access to information, an era in which no information can be kept secret and in a world open to the smallest details and information that are no longer the monopoly of governments and government institutions.”

Kouffa cited two examples of more recent events to prove the “lies” of the French government. That included refuting rumored details of the April 2018 suicide assault on the Timbuktu airport.

During that attack, French media claimed JNIM used a female suicide bomber but the jihadist group quickly denied that report. Kouffa repeated the denial and offered praise for the actual purported suicide bomber, Abu Muhammad al Muhajir.

Additionally, Kouffa cited the French statement on an airstrike in Kidal in Oct. 2017. That airstrike mistakenly killed 11 Malian soldiers who had been kidnapped in central Mali. French sources then reported that those soldiers had joined the jihadists prior to being killed. Kouffa, however, maintains JNIM’s position that the soldiers were still held as prisoners at the time of the airstrike.

Kouffa then laid into a diatribe against the local and international media for “relying solely on the Ministry of the Armed Forces” as well as “speculative statements” from Florence Parly, France’s Minister of the Armed Forces. Parly had stated Kouffa’s death was ‘probable’ after a French airstrike last November.

The jihadist leader also stated that the media failed because “there is no open line of communication between it [the media] and the media foundations belonging to the mujahideen.”

A British-accented representative of JNIM’s Al Zallaqa Media then asked why Kouffa delayed providing visual evidence to refute the claims. Kouffa said that the delay was a political move meant to gauge the reaction both internally and externally.

He went on to explain that JNIM’s leadership wanted to make sure the group’s cohesion remained intact and to “teach the younger members that the message and mission do not stop with the martyrdom of leaders.”

When asked about a reported French spy within his cadre which led to an airstrike targeting him, Kouffa confirmed that this was indeed true but that the spy “is now in the hands of mujahideen.” It is likely that this level of infiltration is what has led to the deaths of several important leaders in Mali over the past year.

Kouffa’s video came just days after France made a similar claim about killing Yahya Abu al Hammam, another co-founder and senior leader within JNIM. However, JNIM has not released any statement denying the death of Hammam, like it did with Kouffa.

Amadou Kouffa is the leader of JNIM’s Katibat Macina, itself a constituent group of Ansar Dine. Kouffa is a longtime ally of Ansar Dine and JNIM’s overall leader Iyad Ag Ghaly, having fought alongside his forces in 2012 where he led several offensives to capture the northern portion of Mali and the central city of Konna.

His Katibat Macina has been responsible for the spread of further violence into southern and central Mali, as well as northern Burkina Faso, alongside other JNIM units.

Last week’s video of Kouffa directly undercuts the credibility of French military statements and serves as a reminder that is often best to wait for other methods and sources of confirmation.

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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