JNIM targets French troops in suicide assault

In a statement released online earlier today, al-Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) took responsibility for a suicide assault on French troops in northern Mali last week. One French soldier was killed in the attack.

JNIM’s statement begins by saying that the “mujahideen struck the occupier French base in the Gossi area [in Mali’s Timbuktu Region] on July 23.” The jihadist group continues by adding that “two explosive vehicles were used in the raid.”

It goes on to allege that one of the suicide car bombs detonated at the entrance to the base, while the second managed to detonate inside the camp. According to the al-Qaeda branch, mortars were then fired into the compound before an assault team of two other jihadists entered the fray.

The July 23 raid in Gossi was confirmed by the French military at the time, though the official statement from the French Ministry of Defense differs greatly from JNIM’s version of events.

The French military has confirmed that one soldier was killed in the attack, but this came after a reconnaissance patrol in the Gossi area came under fire and a French vehicle was hit by a suicide car bomb. Two other soldiers were also wounded in the blast.

Clashes between French forces and jihadists then ensued. Additional reporting from France 24 has also confirmed the clashes took place outside of any military base in the area.

Moreover, a second suicide car bombing was reported by local media but not recorded in the French military statement. The Malian military has also reported that one of its camps in the area was hit by the mortars claimed by JNIM.

The area near Gossi has seen significant French military activity in recent months. In April, a French Foreign Legionnaire was killed in an IED in the border regions between Mali and Burkina Faso. While in May, another Legionnaire was killed in the same region.

Last week’s assault also marks JNIM’s first claimed suicide bombings this year. While the jihadist group has conducted several raids on Malian military bases since January, it has nevertheless made sparing use of the tactic.

For instance, that month it killed at least 20 Malian soldiers in an attack on a base near Sokolo in Mali’s central Segou Region. In March, at least 29 Malian soldiers were killed in Tarkint in the Gao Region. And in April, another 25 soldiers killed in Bamba also in the Gao Region.

Not one of those instances saw the use of a suicide car bombing, which has been a staple of JNIM’s assaults on military bases in recent years.

JNIM continues to pose a serious threat to not only Malian security, but the overall security situation in the Sahel. Despite a French-led counterterrorism mission, troops from the G5 Sahel, and a United Nations peacekeeping force, al Qaeda still retains the ability to operate openly inside Mali and the wider region.

Article updated with new information regarding the July 23 attack.

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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