US designates senior JNIM leader as global terrorist

Amadou Kouffa (center) as seen in a JNIM video released in early 2019.

Earlier today, the US State Department designated Amadou Kouffa, a senior leader within al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM). This comes two days after France announced the death of another senior JNIM leader.

In its press statement, State comments that:

“Amadou Kouffa is a senior member in Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), an al-Qa’ida affiliate active in the Sahel region of Africa, which the Department of State designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and SDGT in September 2018.”

Kouffa leads JNIM’s Katibat Macina (also sometimes referred to as the Macina Liberation Front), which is primarily active in central and southern Mali. Since 2015, Kouffa and his men have been at the forefront of the proliferation of jihadist violence in the country.

The jihadist battalion has also been responsible for attacks inside northern Burkina Faso, where it has worked alongside the al Qaeda-linked Ansaroul Islam. Kouffa and his outfit were instrumental in the formation of the Burkinabe group in 2016.

Kouffa has been able to attract many Fulani recruits into al Qaeda’s ranks in the Sahel by putting out messages in Fulfulde, or the Fula language. He also tried to posit his group as a local defense force by involving itself in communal violence in central Mali.

Prior to the formation of Katibat Macina, Kouffa fought with al Qaeda in 2012 and led several offensives to capture the northern portion of Mali and the central city of Konna.

Last November, French and Malian officials reported that Kouffa was killed in a French raid. However, Kouffa reappeared in a video a few months later refuting the French claims.

Kouffa is still believed to still lead his men on the battlefield. State noted today that “earlier this year, Kouffa led an attack against the Malian army in which more than 20 soldiers were killed.” This is in reference to the March attack in Dioura.

Earlier this year, former Malian colonel-turned-jihadist Ba Ag Moussa was designated by the US Treasury Department. In Treasury’s statement, it alleged that Moussa led that attack.

However, in JNIM’s official statement, it claimed that Kouffa was indeed in charge of that assault. State’s designation today seemingly contradicts Treasury’s information in its designation of Ba Ag Moussa, though it is possible that both were present during the battle as local media reported Moussa in the attack.

Correction: This article originally stated that the designation was issued by both the State and Treasury Departments. It has been corrected to note it was a State Department designation only.

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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