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)
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)
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)
Gen. Gilbert Diendere, a longtime right-hand man to ousted president Blaise Compaore and head of his presidential guard, seized power from Burkina Faso's transitional government on Sept. 17—sparking street protests in the capital Ouagadougou in which three were killed. The following day, the new junta—calling itself the National Council for Democracy—released interim president Michel Kafando, in a bid to quell protests. But prime minister Isaac Zida remains in custody. The US and France have condemned the coup, but both have critical security interests in the country, and have worked closely with Gen. Diendere for years. Burkina Faso serves as a rear base for regional counterterrorism operations and contributes troops to both the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali and the US-led Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. (CSM, BBC News, Sept. 18; Afrique Jet, Sept. 17)
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)
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."
Ivory Coast reinforced security along its northern frontier after a series of attacks by Islamist militias on towns just across the border in Mali. Troops from Ivory Coast are also reported to have crossed the border to assist Malian forces in driving out the rebels. Gunmen attacked and briefly took control of Fakola, a border town in Mali's southern region of Sikasso, on June 28. The raid followed a similar attack weeks earlier during which dozens of militants ransacked a police station in the nearby town of Misseni. Ansar Dine is named as the group behind the attacks, and this appears to represent the first extension of its reach into Mali's south from its territory in the northern deserts. (Reuters, AFP, AFP, July 1)
After years of debate and a 2014 referendum, the Spanish town of Castrillo Matajudíos—yeah, that's right, "Fort Kill the Jews"—has officially changed back to its original name of Castrillo Mota de Judíos, or "Jew's Hill Fort." It's believed that the town, in Burgos province of Castile and León region, was originally a Jewish town. Residents had to convert under threat of death (generally being burned at the stake) or exile under the 1492 Edict of Expulsion, and adopted the new name as a way of proving their loyalty to the Catholic kings. No self-identified Jews live in the town today, but many residents have Jewish roots and the town's official shield includes the Star of David. The city's mayor Lorenzo Rodríguez led the initiative, saying that the name was offensive to many. (No, ya think?) (NPR, June 23)