Al Qaeda figure tied to kidnappings reported killed in Mali

Photo of Baye Ag Bakabo (Source: Baba Ahmed/Jeune Afrique)

Florence Parly, France’s Minister for the Armed Forces, reported yesterday that French forces killed Baye Ag Bakabo, a Tuareg jihadist linked to several kidnappings of Westerners in northern Mali. 

Parly’s statement notes that Bakabo was killed near Aguelhok in northern Mali after “an operation was launched against an armed terrorist group which was about to unleash mortar fire on a base held by a Chadian battalion of MINUSMA.” 

She added that “four terrorists were eliminated including Baye Ag Bakabo, an AQIM executive and person responsible for the kidnapping of our fellow citizens.” She concluded that “his neutralization puts an end to a long wait.”

The French minister identifies Bakabo as a member of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), though it is likely the jihadist was fighting under AQIM’s subordinate entity in the Sahel, the Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), at the time of his reported death. 

Neither AQIM nor JNIM have confirmed Bakabo’s death as of the time of publishing. 

Background on Bakabo and AQIM’s Tuareg battalion

Bakabo, a Tuareg criminal and trafficker, was also tied to AQIM’s largely Tuareg battalion, Katibat al-Ansar. Formed in 2010 to deal with the increase in Tuareg recruits into AQIM, the battalion was led by Hamada Ag Hama (also known as Abdelkarim al-Targui), a relative of current JNIM emir Iyad Ag Ghaly. 

In November 2011, Katibat al-Ansar kidnapped two French citizens, Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, in Hombori, Mali. According to French prosecutors, it was Ag Bakabo that provided the katiba with the vehicles used in the kidnapping.

Verdon was later executed by Ag Hama, while Lazarevic was freed

Two years later, the same katiba kidnapped and executed two French journalists for RFI, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, outside of Kidal, Mali. French prosecutors additionally linked Bakabo to the crime as it was his vehicle that was found abandoned near the bodies of the journalists.  

The battalion was also linked to several other kidnappings across the Sahel and maintained close ties to Ansar Dine, another Tuareg jihadist group that was subsequently utilized as a front for AQIM and was also led by Iyad Ag Ghaly.

Sometime following the French-led intervention in Mali, it is believed that Katibat al-Ansar was merged into Ansar Dine’s ranks. Hamada Ag Hama, himself, was killed by French forces in 2015.

Bakabo is also believed to have also fought alongside Ansar Dine during the 2012 takeover and jihadist occupation of northern Mali. 

Succession of al Qaeda leaders killed in Mali

Bakabo’s reported death follows the killings of several other important al Qaeda figures inside Mali. 

Last November, another important Tuareg within al Qaeda’s ranks, Bah Ag Moussa, was killed by France in Mali’s northern Menaka region. 

Meanwhile, in June 2020, the overall leader of AQIM, Abdelmalek Droukdel, was also killed in a French operation near Talhandak in Mali’s far northern Kidal region. While in 2019, two other senior leaders, Abu Abdul Rahman al Sanhaji and Yahya Abu al Hammam, were also killed by French forces. 

Despite these deaths, however, al Qaeda’s forces continue to be a serious threat to security not only in Mali but in the wider Sahel region overall.

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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