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)
French special forces, as part of the ongoing Operation Barkhane, carried out a raid in northern Mali over the weekend, targeting the jihadist group al-Murabitoon. According to the French Ministry of Defense, the raid "neutralized 10 terrorists"—with "neutralized" usually serving as a euphemism for killed. The town of Menaka, in the Gao region, was taken over by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) in 2012, which is now said to be one of al-Murabitoon's constituent groups. MUJAO was driven from Gao in the 2013 French intervention but has continued to wage an insurgency in the region. In April, al-Murabitoon launched a suicide assault on the nearby town of Ansongo, killing three civilians and wounding 16 others including nine Nigerien peacekeepers. (Long War Journal, Dec. 23)
Ahmad al-Mahdi al-Faqi AKA Abu Tourab, a former member of militant group Ansar Dine, was turned over to the International Criminal Court at The Hague by authorities in Niger Sept. 26, accused of war crimes allegedly committed in Timbuktu, Mali, including destruction of religious and historical monuments. He is charged in the destruction of nine mausoleums and a mosque in the historic city in 2012, when an alliance of jihadist militias including Ansar Dine was in control of northern Mali. The entire city of Timbuktu, known as the "City of 333 Saints," is a UNESCO-listed world heritage site. El-Boukhari Ben Essayouti, head of the Timbuktu Cultural Mission, said that al-Mahdi was but one militant who took part in the destruction, and called for his accomplices to be similarly brought to justice. (AFP, BBC News, AP, ICC press release, Sept. 26)
Fighting erupted Aug. 15 between Tuareg militias in northern Mali's Kidal region, breaking the ceasefire and threatening peace talks scheduled to resume this week in neighboring Niger. The clashes at Touzek Oued, southeast of Kidal town, pitted rebels under the banner of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) against the pro-government Platform coalition, which includes the GATIA militia. GATIA leader Fahad ag-Almahamoud claimed his forces had killed some 20 CMA fighters, including rebel leaders. This was denied by CMA representative Almou ag-Mohamed, who said the Platform forces lost many fighters while his forces had lost two, one of whom was probably captured. He added: "Platform wants to sow disorder." Both sides are blaming each other for starting the clashes. The government said it will establish a 20-kilometer "security zone" around Kidal. The CMA, which has been holding out for greater autonomy over the Tuareg region, has still not confirmed that it will attend the new round of peace talks. (AFP, Reuters, UN News Centre, Aug. 17)
Mali's government is boasting a deal with Tuareg leaders signed May 15 in the capital Bamako that grants autonomous powers to the northern homeland of Azawad. But the "Algiers Accord"—named for Algeria-brokered negotiations—was not signed by the main rebel factions. Two leaders of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) signed, but not the body as a whole. The pro-Bamako militia known as the Tuareg Self-Defense Group of Imghad and Allies (GATIA) also signed. But the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and allied High Council for the Unity of Azawad boycotted the ceremony. Also absent were the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA), Coordination for the People of Azawad (CPA), and Coordination of Movements and Fronts of Patriotic Resistance (CM-SAF).
At least 12 people were in clashes Feb. 6 between rival Tuareg groups at Tabankort, northwest of Kidal in northern Mali, local sources told Efe. (See map.) Reports said the separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) suffered 10 deaths, while the pro-government Imghad Tuareg Self-Defense Group (GATIA), lost two fighters, according to the sources. For more than two weeks, the two groups have battled for control of land along the border with Algeria apparently with little interfrence from the Malian army or the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The Bamako government and MINUSMA opened talks in Algeria last week with the MNLA and allied High Council for Azawad Unity (HCUA). (EFE, MaliActu.net, Feb. 6)
Authorities in Mali said July 31 that a once-powerful jihadist leader has been arrested by French military forces in the northern desert town of Gao. Yoro Ould Daha was a commander of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which controlled Gao for nearly a year before the French intervention of 2013. Ould Daha was the MUJAO commander who announced the death of French hostage Gilberto Rodriguez-Leal, who was captured in November 2012 while traveling in Mauritania and Mali. He also took responsibility for the abduction of five humanitarian workers who were later released. (AP, July 31)