Attacks by Islamist militants, military operations, and waves of inter-communal violence have left hundreds dead and tens of thousands displaced since January in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, triggering an "unprecedented" humanitarian crisis that has caught many by surprise. Homegrown militant groups, as well as extremists linked to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State group, had been operating in the country's north since 2016, but have expanded to new fronts in eastern and southwestern Burkina Faso, threatening the stability of neighboring countries. Militants now launch near-daily attacks on Burkina Faso's embattled security forces, which have responded by committing numerous abuses against civilians in "counter-terrorism" operations, including mass summary executions and arbitrary arrests, according to witness accounts and rights organizations. As the state struggles to protect civilians, a growing number of "self-defense" militias have mobilized, escalating ethnic tensions in a country once considered a beacon of coexistence and tolerance in West Africa.
Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) is warning of an "environmental disaster" following clashes at the country's Ras Lanuf oil terminal that set storage tanks of the Harouge Oil Company on fire. "Further damage to these oil sites could have a huge impact on the Libyan oil sector and the national economy," the statement said. The chief of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, Ibrahim Jadran, launched a military operation in Libya's "oil crescent" last week to take the Ras Lanuf and Sidra terminals from Operation Dignity militia forces. Jadran called Operation Dignity “a terrorist entity.” Operation Dignity and the affiliated "Libyan National Army," led by commander Khalifa Haftar, are loyal to Libya's unrecognized eastern government. (Al Jazeera, June 18; Libya Observer, June 16)
A new Qaeda-affiliated faction, the Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (Group for Support of Islam and Muslims, JNIM), is said to be behind a string of recent deadly attacks in Mali's conflcited desert north. The group claimed responsibility for a May 7 suicide assault on a military base at Almoustarat, outside the northern city of Gao, that left seven Malian soliders dead. The jihadists breached the base perimeter, and were able to capture at least three vehicles and large amounts of weapons before French troops arrived. JNIM also claimed a May 3 raid on a camp of the MINUSMA peacekeeping force outside Timbuktu that killed a Liberian solider. Under the nominal command of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), JNIM is apparently attemtping to reunite the fragmented jihadist insurgency in northern Mali. It has apparently absorbed the Murabitoun group, until now the most active jihadist faction in Mali. (Journal du Mali, May 9; Long War Journal, May 8; UN News Centre, May 4)
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)
The US is building a military air base in Niger that will be capable of deploying drones to police the greater Sahara and Sahel regions. The US already has a presence in the capital Niamey, where it shares an airbase with with French troops from the anti-Islamist Operation Barkhane. The new facility, in the central city of Agadez, will give Washington greater ability to use drones against Islamist extremists in neighboring Libya, Mali and Nigeria. A Pentagon representative confirmed the US has agreed to pay for a new runway and "associated pavements, facilities and infrastructure," estimating the cost at $50 million. But The Intercept, which broke the story, said it is projected to cost twice that. The news site reports that it has obtained files indicating the project is considered "the most important US military construction effort in Africa," and will be completed in 2017. (BBC News, Sept. 29)
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)