Installation of an interim authority in Timbuktu, part of a peace deal with Tuareg rebels in Mali's desert north, was blocked as hardline factions erected street barricades across the city March 6. Former rebel leader Boubacar Ould Hamadi was to become head of the interim authority in Timbuktu. The rejectionist factions, holding out for greater autonomy in the region, are led by the Council for Justice in Azawad. Last week, interim authorities were successfully installed in the towns of Kidal and Menaka. But there were also difficulties in Gao, where dozens of armed men briefly occupied the regional assembly building until their demands for greater participation were met. (Reuters, AFP, March 6)
The desert town of Kidal in northern Mali is under siege, divided into hostile camps by rival Tuareg factions—the pro-government Platform coalition, led by the GATIA militia, and the separatist Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA). Jihadist insurgents meanwhile harass the UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA in sporadic attacks from the desert. (Reuters, Oct. 17) Now there are signs that the jihadists are again trying to draw the separatist Tuarges into an alliance. On Oct. 9, renegade North African al-Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar issued an online statement eulogizing Sheikh ag-Aoussa, a CMA leader who was killed in an explosion in Kidal the day before. Ag Aoussa's car blew up as he was leaving a meeting at the town's MINUSMA compound. Authorities maintain the car hit a land mine, but CMA followers charge that Ag Aoussa was assassinated. (LWJ, Oct. 14)
Gunmen from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) targeted a popular beach resort in southern Ivory Coast on March 13, killing at least 14 civilians and two soldiers. The resort, in the city of Grand Bassam, is located only 25 miles east of Ivory Coast's largest city of Abidjan. According to the AFP, the gunmen "roamed the beach firing shots" before targeting the L'Etoile du Sud and two other nearby hotels. Ivorian security forces quickly "neutralized" the gunmen. The government's statement says that "six terrorists" were killed; however, AQIM's short claim of responsibility released online, states only three of its fighters were involved in the assault. “Three heroes from the knights of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb were able to break into the tourist resort city of Grand Bassam," the jihadists said, indicating a larger statement will be released soon. Mauritanian news site Al Akhbar reports that sources within AQIM said that its "Sahara Emirate" and Katibat al-Murabitoon, led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, were behind the attack. (Long War Journal, March 13)
Jihadists attacked the Splendid Hotel in the central Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, setting cars ablaze and firing randomly, leaving 28 dead on Jan. 15. All but five of those killed were foreigners. The siege ended with a joint operation by Burkinabe and French commandos, in which at least four assailants were killed—including both Arabs and Black Africans. French special forces are stationed outside Ouagadougou as part of ongoing counter-terrorist operation in the Sahel. In an online statement entitled "A Message Signed with Blood and Body Parts," al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said the attack was carried out by "mujahideen brothers" of its West African franchise, al-Mourabitoun. The statement boasted of "many dead Crusaders," although the victims appear to have been entirely civilians. (BBC News, DW, RFI, AP, NYT)
Armed assailants seized the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, Nov. 20, taking some 170 hostages and sparking a confrontation with security troops and US and French special forces in which at least 27 people are dead. A group calling itself al-Mourabitoun claimed responsibility jointly with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Al-Mourabitoun is said to be the new outfit of Algerian Islamist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar—who was twice reported killed, once in a Chadian military operation in Mali in 2013 and then earlir this year in a US air-strike in Libya. In a statement posted on Twitter on June 19, just after the Libyan air-strike, the group said he was "still alive and well and he wanders and roams in the land of Allah, supporting his allies and vexing his enemies." (SMH, CNN, DNA)
The latest edition of the English-language ISIS magazine Dabiq, released online Sept. 9, contains the predictable parade of perversions. Two men, Norwegian and Chinese nationals, are offered for sale as slaves. The destruction of ancient temples at the Palmyra archaeological site is trumpeted. Child soldiers are glorified as "lion cubs" of the "caliphate." The 9-11 attacks are hailed as the "blessed operations." But it also features an interview with Abul Mughirah al-Qahtani, identified as the "delegated leader" of the Islamic State's Libyan "province," in which he harshly criticizes several rival jihadist outfits, including Ansar al-Sharia, the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (ASMB), the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), and the Libyan Dawn coalition.
With ISIS in control of a chunk of Libya and Tunisia militarizing after a deadly terrorist attack, an article appears in the United Arab Emirates' The National warning of a "narco-jihadist" threat in North Africa. The commentary by Abdelkader Cheref, a professor at the State University of New York, warns that "huge quantities of Moroccan hashish transit through the Sahara where so-called narco-jihadists, who control a triangle of no-man's land between northern Mali and Niger, eastern Mauritania, southern Algeria and Libya, smuggle the shipments to Europe. There are mounting concerns regarding the links between Moroccan drug barons and narco-jihadists linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa."
The Pentagon announced June 23 that Ali Awni al-Harzi, a suspect in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, was killed eight days earlier by a US air-strike in Mosul, Iraq. The Defense Department describes al-Harzi as a "person of interest" in the Benghazi attack, adding that he "operated closely with multiple ISIL-associated extremists throughout North Africa and the Middle East." In April, both the US State Department and the United Nations designated al-Harzi as a terrorist. The State Department found that Harzi "joined Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AAS-T) in 2011 and was a high-profile member known for recruiting volunteers, facilitating the travel of AAS-T fighters to Syria, and for smuggling weapons and explosives into Tunisia." Ansar al-Sharia works closely with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The State Department's designation did not mention Harzi's role in the Benghazi attack, but the UN's designation for Harzi reads: "Planned and perpetrated the attack against the Consulate of the United States in Benghazi, Libya on 11 Sep. 2012."