France has vowed to punish those responsible for the April 23 car bomb blast at its embassy in Tripoli that destroyed half the building and wounded six—two French guards, and four resident of nearby buildings that were damaged, including an 18-year-old woman who suffered spinal damage. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who immediately flew to Tripoli, vowed: "The terrorists who wanted to attack France and Libya and undermine the friendship between them will pay." Prime Minister Ali Zeidan visited the scene of the devastation with Fabius. There was no claim of responsibility, but suspicion immediately fell on al-Qaeda's North African arm, AQIM, which has repeatedly threatened retaliation for the French intervention in Mali. On April 25, two suspects arrested following a lightning investigation led by a French judge and a team of foresnics experts dispatched by Paris. (Libya Herald, Tripoli Post, April 25; Al Jazeera, NYT, April 23)
Tuareg rebels on March 5 called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate what they called war crimes committed by Malian government forces during the current conflict. "Soldiers have engaged in acts of torture, summary executions and forced disappearances" in several areas including Timbuktu and Gao, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said in a statement. The movement said its lawyers have asked the ICC to open an investigation "into crimes committed by the Malian army against members of ethnic groups (such as) Fula, Tuareg, Arab and Songhai." (AFP, March 5)
Chad's military announced March 2 that its forces in Mali killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the renegade AQIM commander who apparently ordered January's attack on an Algerian gas plant where at least 37 hostages were killed. The statement on Chadian national TV said Belmokhtar was among several militants killed when its forces destroyed a "terrorist base" in the Adrar de Ifhogas mountains. One day earlier, Chad's President Idriss Deby said his forces had killed another al-Qaeda commander, Adelhamid Abou Zeid, in an operation in the same area near the Algerian border. Belmokhtar and Abu Zeid, both Algerians, were said to have been rival AQIM commanders in Mali. (Reuters, BBC News, March 2)
Radio France International (RFI) and French newspaper Libération claim that their reporters discovered, in the ransacked offices of the ORTM national TV station in Timbuktu, a document in which AQIM commander Abdel Malek Droukdel outlines his strategy for Mali. The news website Algérie 1 also publishes excerpts from the 79-page hand-written document dated July 20, 2012, entitled "Roadmap Relating to Islamic Jihad in Azawad." The document is portrayed as revealing a moderated vision of an Islamic state that could win the support of the Tuaregs while hiding the actual role of AQIM.
Britain's The Telegraph on Feb. 13 reports on a document reportedly found by their reporter in the ruins of a Gendarmerie Nationale barracks outside Timbuktu that had been used by the jihadists and then destroyed in a French air-strike. The document, purportedly the notes from a March 18, 2012 leadership meeting of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), chaired by AQIM "prince" Abu Musab Abdul Wadoud, is said to lay bare AQIM's plan to consolidate control of northern Mali, stating: "We had to think of the necessity to draw a plan to command and control the jihad activities there at this critical moment and target all efforts to achieve the required goals." The supposed document is portrayed as especially expressing concerns over Ansar Dine, the faction that controlled Timbuktu, as too independent.
For days we have been wondering about the fate of Kidal, the last town in northern Mali that remains under rebel control. Unless you are paying close attention, you would not know that the rebels in Kidal are not jihadists—they are secular Tuareg separatists of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), who took the town from the local jihadist faction, Ansar Dine, at the same time that combined French and Malian forces were driving the jihadists from Timbuktu and Gao last month. French-led forces reportedly captured Kidal's airport last week but have held back on entering the town itself—an implicit acknowledgement of the sensitive situation, a desire to avoid opening a new insurgency with the MNLA but also to stop short of allowing them a zone of control. Now the French military says it is 1,800 soldiers from Chad that have entered Kidal. An astute choice.
French warplanes on Feb. 2 carried out air-strikes in the remaining pocket of Mali's far north still under rebel control—but exactly which rebels remains unclear. The air-strikes apparently targeted rebel bases in Tessalit—a mountainous area near the Algerian border—and outside Kidal, the last major town still in rebel hands. (See map.) French forces claim to have captured Kidal's airport on Jan. 30, as prelude to taking the town, following the pattern in Timbuktu days earlier. But one day before that, the secular Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) claimed to have seized Kidal from jihadist forces. The MNLA have portrayed their advance into Kidal as part of a coordinated campaign against the "terrorists"; however, the fate of Kidal could be the test of whether there is any place for Tuareg autonomy in the new order.
The US military is preparing to establish a drone base in "northwest Africa"—likely be located in Niger along the eastern border of Mali, where French forces are currently waging a campaign against jihadist rebels, anonymous officials told the New York Times Jan. 28. The base would supposedly facilitate intelligence gathering by unarmed surveillance drones on al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and related militant networks. If the plan is approved, up to 300 US military personnel and contractors could be sent to staff the base.