Months after killing four US Special Forces soldiers, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has been designated as a terrorist group by the US government. Its leader, Abu Walid al Sahrawi, was also designated today.
Today’s attempted prison break is just the most recent in a spate of attacks in Niger from suspected Malian-based jihadists.
Despite having initially denied his death, AQIM finally confirms the death of one of its former spokesmen two years after his reported death.
AQIM denies that Mokhtar Belmokhtar was killed in US airstrikes earlier this month. The jihadists have now released five statements on the matter. Two of the statements deny Belmokhtar has been killed, while the other three imply he is alive. None of them say he is dead.
A jihadist leader known as Adnan Abu Walid al Sahrawi has declared allegiance to the Islamic State. It appears that he has pledged fealty to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi on behalf of MUJAO, a jihadist group in West Africa. There is no indication that al Qaeda loyalists, such as Mokhtar Belmokhtar, have also defected.
The explosion killed three civilians and left 16 wounded, including nine Nigerien UN peacekeepers. The group said that it was directly targeting Nigerien troops because of Niger’s president Mahamadou Issoufou’s response in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.
Dutch national Sjaak Rijke has been freed from captivity after being held in Mali since 2011. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda’s official branch in North Africa, is still believed to be holding two other men captured with Rijke in Timbuktu.
Despite a French-led counterterrorism operation in Mali and the Sahel, al Qaeda-linked violence continues to be a problem.
The firefights in both Mali and Niger represent a sharp increase in violence since the beginning of this year.
Yesterday’s ambush in Gao is the worst attack on UN forces since they took over security responsibilities in the summer of 2013.
This week, Agence France-Presse received a disturbing call from a terrorist group announcing the death of French hostage Gilberto Rodrigues Leal.
Malian officials claimed that Oumar Ould Hamaha, whom the US has offered a $3 million reward, was killed. The report is unconfirmed.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s al-Mulathameen Brigade is behind terror attacks in Niger, Algeria, and Mali. Its “aliases,” the al-Murabitoon Brigade and al Mua’qi’oon Biddam, have also been added to the US’s lists of terror groups.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar united his group, the al-Mulathameen Brigade, with Ahmed el Tilemsi’s Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa to form the al-Murabitoon. The new group has praised the emirs of al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The al Qaeda-linked Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa said the suicide attacks were intended to punish Niger for “cooperation with France in the war against Sharia” in Mali.
Hamad el Khairy, the head of the MUJAO’s sharia committee, said reports of Belmokhtar’s death are “merely unfounded lies” and have “no basis of truth.”
The US government has added the al Qaeda-linked Movement for Tawhid [Unity] and Jihad in West Africa and two of its leaders to the list of global terrorists and entities. The group has named one of its units fighting in Mali after Osama bin Laden.