In exchange for the release of dozens of imprisoned members from Mali’s prisons, Al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) has freed four hostages, three of them foreign. JNIM has since celebrated the prisoner swap, including a personal appearance by its overall emir, Iyad Ag Ghaly, in northern Mali.
JNIM claims its first suicide bombing of the year on French troops in the Timbuktu region of northern Mali.
While JNIM has not claimed the assault, its Katibat Macina is widely suspected of perpetrating the attack. This comes after sustained operations against it in the area last month.
The two jihadist groups continue their rampage in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.
The attack in Mali’s northern Gao region is one of the deadliest in recent months.
Two recently released booklets by the al Qaeda group are likely meant to assuage tensions both within and outside its organization.
It is unclear if the unit represents a splinter of al Qaeda’s JNIM, though the group now represents an Islamic State-loyal faction close to the borders with Mauritania.
The al Qaeda group has claimed a series of attacks across the Sahel in recent weeks.