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.
A settlement of semi-nomadic Fulani herders was attacked in Mali Jan. 1, with at least 33 residents slain and several homes set aflame. Survivors said the attackers were traditional Dogon hunters, known as dozos. The army was rushed to Koulogon village in central Mopti region to control the situation following the massacre. But the perpetrators may have actually been assisted by the armed forces. Dogon residents of the area have formed a self-defense militia, known as Dana Amassagou (which translates roughly as "hunters in God's hands"), to prevent incursions by jihadists from Mali's conflicted north into the country's central region. The militia is said to have received weapons and training from the official armed forces. However, driven by conflicts over access to land and shrinking water resources, the militia has apparently been attacking local Fulani villages. Hundreds are said to have been killed in clashes between Dogon and Fulani over the past year. A Senegalese rapid reaction force under UN command was deployed to Mopti last year in response to the mounting violence. (All India Radio, Middle East Online, Jan. 2; Al Jazeera, BBC News, Jan. 1; IRIN, Sept. 4)
The Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al-Qaeda's branch in West Africa and the Sahel, claimed its forces were responsible for a suicide bombing in the northern Malian city of Gao Nov. 12. The suicide truck-bomb detonated in a residential area of Gao, killing three (not counting the attacker) and wounding another 30. The JNIM statement claimed the target was a base of "Crusader invaders" from the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada. However, all of those killed were civilians and local Malians. Four of the wounded were foreign employees of the United Nations' Mine Action Service, working to remove landmines in the area. They included two Cambodians, a South African, and a Zimbabwean. A video later released by JNIM confirmed that the mine-dismantling headquarters in Gao was the intended target. The video stated that "this operation demonstrates that the mujahideen are continuing upon their covenant, which they had made to their lord, until they achieve one of the two good ends, victory or martyrdom." The statement said the group will continue to target international forces until "the ummah [Musilm community] enjoys the rule of shariah."
The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced March 31 that al-Hassan ag-Abdoul Aziz ag-Mohamed ag-Mahmoud was surrendered to the court's detention center in the Netherlands by Malian authorities. According to the arrest warrant (PDF), he is accused of crimes against humanity in Timbuktu, Mali, as de facto leader of the "Islamic police" force in 2012 and 2013. He allegedly took part in the destruction of the mausoleums of Muslim saints in Timbuktu. He also allegedly participated in forced marriages involving Fulani women, which resulted in repeated rape and the reduction of women and girls to sexual slavery. The International Criminal Court concludes that there is evidence to provide grounds for an arrest warrant under the reasonable belief that Al Hassan could be criminally liable under Articles 25 (3) (a) or 25 (3) (b) of the Rome Statute (PDF) for crimes against humanity. Al Hassan is expected to make an initial appearance in court later this week.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Aug. 17 found (PDF) that a former Malian jihadist militant is liable for individual and collective reparations for overseeing the destruction of Muslim shrines in Timbuktu. Ahmad al-Faqi was found liable for 2.7 million euros in expenses. In its order, the ICC stressed the importance of cultural heritage:
Because of their purpose and symbolism, most cultural property and cultural heritage are unique and of sentimental value. As a result, they are not fungible or readily replaceable. The destruction of international cultural heritage thus "carries a message of terror and helplessness; it destroys part of humanity's shared memory and collective consciousness; and it renders humanity unable to transmit its values and knowledge to future generations". It is an irreplaceable loss that negates humanity.
The court noted that al-Mahdi is indigent and encouraged the Trust Funds for Victims to complement the reparations award and submit a draft implementation plan by next February.
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 Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights reported Dec. 5 that over the past days some 1,400 migrants, mainly from West Africa, were taken from their homes in Algiers by riot police—including children, pregnant women, asylum-seekers, refugees. Some were injured in the raids, and most were taken to a holding center outside the city. A convoy of 11 buses is already reported to have left Algeirs for Tamanrasset in the south, presumably to expel the detained across the border to Mali. Algerian authorities warned at the end of September that they intended to expel tens of thousands of migrants. Recent weeks have seen clashes in southern Algeria between migrants and local residents. (BBC World Service)