MENASTREAM – Sahel Report for October 2016
Security-related incidents and key developments
October has been a violent month in northern and central Mali on a similar level as previous month, although there was a notable increase in more complex attacks, with attacks and activity recorded in zones pertaining to AQIM, Ansar Dine and MUJAO or in respective group’s main area of operations. Most of the attacks were carried out by Ansar Dine including multiple rocket/mortar attacks that targeted several bases of United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission In Mali (MINUSMA) and several attacks targeting Barkhane forces by detonations of IEDs/landmines, the majority in the area of Abeïbara. A complex attack was conducted against the Malian army in Goma-Coura, and also an attempted suicide attack in Timbuktu which targeted a Swedish MINUSMA patrol.
An incident that have come to mark this month was the death of Cheikh Ag Aoussa in Kidal, HCUA’s military commander killed in a car explosion after leaving a biweekly security meeting between representatives from CMA, MINUSMA and Barkhane, unclear circumstances regarding the killing of Ag Aoussa have made locals to believe that France was behind his death, further complicating the French Barkhane mission, which already is strongly opposed by people in the Kidal region. The conflict in Mali has increasingly produced spillover in the neighbouring countries of Niger and Burkina with incidents highlighted in this report, an ongoing turf war along both ethnic lines and between competing networks in Mali and across its borders.
The precarious security situation in northern Mali is accompanied by a just as bad political situation, characterized by division and discord. The installation of the ‘interim authorities’ continues to face obstacles, CMA on one hand accused the government of taking unilateral desicions by signing a decree appointing members for the interim authorities, hence increasing the number of government members for the Transitional Council in contravention with the agreed framework. Additionally, factions within CMA, namely MSA, CPA, CMFPR2, and a part of MNLA were not pleased with the list of appointees, thus, the lists weren’t inclusive, also accusing the Minister of Territorial Administration Mohamed Ag Erlaf of favoring CMA officials in Kidal, and likewise that the CMA officials in Kidal only work in favor of the Kidal Region. CMA’s reaction to the discontent was to reaffirm that only HCUA, MNLA and MAA were part of CMA, and the only factions that could speak in CMA’s name with reference to its establisment which only included those factions just mentioned, thus dismissing the discontent expressed by representatives from the former mentioned movements except MNLA which is part of CMA, and MSA being a recent splinter group led by Moussa Ag Acharatoumane, also one of the founders of MNLA. CMA emphazised that CPA and CMFPR2 were brought on board as a “friendly gesture” after they were rejected by Bamako and the Platform. The groups rejected made their move by stating that they constituted the majority of the “refounded” CMA, a move that could be understood as the creation of a ‘CMA2’. A lot of confusing acronyms reflecting the state of politics in northern Mali, characterized by perplexity and lack of progress.
The tribe Kel Antessar and allies and the Superior Council of Imghad and allies signed a solidarity charter on October 25 in Bamako, agreeing to to cooperate on the political-, security- and humanitarian level, with the stated aim to address and review issues in the interest of both communities.
HCUA’s (High Council for the Unity of Azawad) Superior Council of Defense officially designated Achafghi Ag Bouhada as the new Chief of Staff succeeding recently deceased Cheikh Ag Aoussa, and also named Alhousseini AG Ahmedou as Deputy Chief of Staff, the decision was made during a meeting on October 25 in Intikawa, although accumulating reports revealed Bouhada as Aoussa’s successor almost a week earlier.
A positive development in Northern Mali was the beginning of joint patrols that started in early October along the Ménaka-Ansongo axis followed by Gao and Kidal with various constellations of MINUSMA-, Barkhane-, Malian (FAMa)-, Plateforme- and CMA forces.
An important development with effects still to be seen is the alleged agreed ceasefire by Ansar Dine’s leader Iyad Ag Ghaly on the request by the President of the High Islamic Council Mahmoud Dicko. It is said that Dicko negotiated with the approval of Malian authoritities and he reportedly confirmed that a letter said to be signed by Ag Ghaly was authentic,
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circulating on Malian media delivered by mediators of Dicko and Ag Ghaly. Despite that the letter by Ag Ghaly allegedly is authentic, one should be sceptical and cautious about the realisation of a ceasefire, and above all the stance of France and its Barkhane mission. After the finalization of this report Ansar Dine’s media wing Rimaah issued a statement refuting the claims made by Mahmoud Dicko. According to the statement the group had neither agreed to any unilateral ceasefire nor cessation of hostilities with what was referred to as the “apostate and treacherous” government in Bamako.
After more than 17 months since the initial pledge of allegiance, Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency finally recognized in a statement the former MUJAO spokesman Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi’s faction of al-Murabitin as part of the Islamic State. The statement was followed by a short high quality video showing al-Sahrawi reading the pledge of allegiance accompanied by his men numbering around thirty fighters. Whether or not the initial pledge of allegiance was made back in May 2015 is today of less importance, al-Sahrawi and his men have had time to consolidate and set up a base in its sanctuary of the southern Gao region, and also other preparations and planning for what was coming. Within a short period of time the group has conducted three operations for which it has claimed responsibility, not excluding the possibility of additional attacks not taken credit for. With the setbacks ISIS has experienced in Libya, but also in Iraq and Syria, it is possible that both returnees from especially North and West Africa see Sahrawi’s group as an alternative. The tri-state border area where Sahrawi and his men are active also constitute a strategic location with ISWAP/Boko Haram’s arena in the south around Lake Chad, and ISIS Libya’s crumbling Wilayat Tarabulus in the north. The official recognition by ISIS of Sahrawi’s gang could turn the group into a potential recruiting magnet being based on the fertile ground for jihadists that Mali provides together with the border zones in neighbouring countries that lack adequate military presence. It is difficult to forecast how Sahrawi’s project will develop but considering the potential of North Africans, Sahelians and Westafricans joining his ranks, it could further destabilize an already torn region and provide fallback for jihadists pushed back and pressured in other areas of the region. Additionally, the accession of Sahrawi’s al-Murabitin to the Islamic State could brutalize the Malian arena with demands of spectacular and macabre attacks.
The news of al-Sahrawi and his faction of al-Murabitin joining the ‘Islamic State was also featured with pledge of allegiance and basic facts summarized in the 53th edition of ISIS weekly bulletin al-Naba.
AQIM’s Al-Andalus Media released a video on October 31 with proof of life of the Romanian hostage Iulian Ghergut, abducted by al-Mourabitoun on April 4, 2015 in Tambao, Burkina Faso. In the short high quality video Ghergut greets his family and says that he is in good health although looking tired and aged after 19 months in captivity, he also calls on the Romanian government to do everything in their power to secure his release.
Incident type and actors:
1 violent extremist organizations, Islamist militants, Jihadist groups, terrorism
2 inter-armed group violence (non-Jihadist)
3 banditry, robberies, organized crime
4 military -and counter-terrorism operations by Barkhane-, MINUSMA-, Malian (FAMa)-, Nigerien-, Burkinabé- or Algerian security forces
– A complex attack targeted the MINUSMA base in Aguelhok, Kidal, with attack initiated around 14h, it involved a serie of mortar shells fired at the base and IED detonations that struck vehicles deployed to find the mortar launchsite. The attack resulted in the death of 2 peacekeepers and another 7 wounded. Ansar Dine claimed responsibility for the attack.1
– Four unidentified gunmen raided the locality of Bougoumeïra. The attack left one civilian dead and several injured.1,3
– A GTIA Elou escort of the Malian army was ambushed between Acharane and Tintelout, 1 soldier was killed and another wounded in the attack carried out by unidentified gunmen aboard vehicles heavily armed, the prefect of Goundam Ibrahim Ag Achabane was also injured, the attackers reportedly seized two vehicles also burned the vehicle of the prefecture.1
– Late at night, fighters from CM-FPR attacked a CMA checkpoint in M’bouna, CMA sources claimed that the attackers were ‘neutralized’.2
– Mortar shells targeted the MINUSMA camp in Ber, but landed approximately 100m outside the camp without causing any damages.1
– Early in the morning, French Barkhane forces conducted a counter-terrorism operation in the area of Tinzawatène, an airstrike was also reported that hit a vehicle carrying a fighter associated with CMA who was killed in the strike, 2 others killed were later found buried by locals, several arrests were also carried out amidst the operation.4,2
– In the morning unidentified gunmen aboard vehicles attacked the villages of Sahène and Tinasben, attacking locals burning and also seizing vehicles, the attack reportedly left 3 dead, multiple wounded and as many as 17 people abducted.1,2
– The military commander of HCUA, Cheikh Ag Aoussa was killed in a car explosion around 18h00 after leaving a biweekly security meeting at the MINUSMA base in Kidal. It is still not clear if his vehicle was struck by an IED/mine or if a bomb was planted on his car.2,1,4 [See MENASTREAM report Mali: Serious ramifications of the Tazalite attack in the North]
– Ansar Dine claimed to have detonated 2 mines/IEDs on 2 French Barkhane vehicles near the village of Abeïbara, Barkhane acknowledged that 6 of their soldiers were injured in the blasts.1
– Around 20h00, a suicide attack targeted Swedish peacekeepers on patrol in Timbuktu. The attacker approached the unit and detonated his explosive belt which only partially exploded due to some kind of malfunction, only killing the assailant with no injuries within the ranks of the Swedish MINUSMA unit.1,4 [See MENASTREAM report Mali: Suicide attack targeted Swedish peacekeepers in Timbuktu]
– 1 dead and 1 injured after two 16 year old youths picked up an explosive device while walking in the bush in the area of Gao.5
– Chief of the tribe Kel Ansar Habadi Ag Mohamed was abducted by gunmen aboard two vehicles on the evening at the market of Zouara, AQIM intially suspected. Habadi was later released.1,2
– Fatal accident in Dienngo involving youths who picked up a grenade/IED, 1 killed and 1 severly injured.5
– Around 17h unidentified gunmen aboard motorcycles opened fire on the Malian Gendarmerie checkpoint in Matomo, the gendarmes stationed at the site fled with the assailants burning the post, a motorcycle and other material left behind.1
– A complex attack targeted the Malian army in Goma-Coura, initiated with IEDs followed by armed attack, reportedly including RPGs, leaving 4 Malian soldiers dead and 7 wounded, Ansar Dine claimed responsibility for the attack attributing the ambush to the Macina Brigade.1
– Ansar Dine claimed to have detonated an IED on a Barkhane vehicle, part of convoy on search patrol in Ti-n-Demba, 24km east of the Amachach base, this according to statement by Ansar Dine’s media wing Rimaah.1
– Man who worked as guide for the Malian army during Operation Seno identified as Thédore Somboro, assassinated around 18h between Ségué & Djinajo, Bankass Cercle.1
– Around 17h00 in Inlamawane, unidentified gunmen assassinated CMA responsable for the Marsi area identified as Dahmane Ag Alhader.2
– A medical vehicle delivering vaccines was struck by an IED around 17h00, approximately 7km from the Gossi checkpoint on the road linking Gossi and Hombori. A nurse was killed in the blast.1
– A Malian army vehicle was struck by an IED around 16h00 in the area of Téméra resulting in 2 wounded soldiers.1
– Two gunmen aboard a motorcycle failed in an attempt to seize a car in the Abaradjou district of Timbuktu, as the driver refused to hand over the keys the gunmen shot him in the arm.3
A man who just had made a withdrawal at the Ecobank was robbed and shot in the leg by gunmen around 13h in Bamako.3
Gunmen attacked a transport bus in Bouaré. A witness said the occupants were stripped of their assets. No loss of lives was reported.3
Mortar shells were fired around 17h30 at the joint MINUSMA-Barkhane base in Kidal. 6-8 shells landed around the helipad and damaged two Banghladeshi helicopters.1
Rumors that a Barkhane vehicle was hit by an IED near Abeïbara in the morning. Ansar Dine later claimed to have destroyed a French Barkhane armored vehicle by detonation of a mine in the area.1
– Unidentified gunmen arriving on board vehicles and motorcycles attacked soldiers, gendarmes and guards assigned with protecting the Tazalite refugee camp around 14h. The attack left 22 dead and 5 injured. A soldier who survived the attack said that the assailants were MUJAO jihadists.1
– Around 21h00 unidentified gunmen abducted a US aid worker associated with the local NGO JEMED & YWAM, the bodyguard and a National Guard were killed in the incident.1,3
– Around 4h30 the prison of Koutoukalé was attacked by jihadists, Nigerien security forces managed to repell the attack with two wounded within their ranks and one of the assailants equipped with an explosive belt killed. Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi’s Islamic State in the Greater Sahara claimed responsibility for the failed attack according to the Mauritanian newsoutlet Alakhbar with reference to a received phone call.1
– Violent clashes reported between Tuareg and Tebu armed men in Tchibarakaten, Agadez Region. Amoumoune Kalakouwa, a Tuareg ex-rebel and former MNJ military leader was said to be involved in the clashes. A local source in Agadez told MENASTREAM that several clashes had taken place, but also added that Kalakouwa’s involvement was nothing more than rumours not to be verified by any reliable sources.2
– Two civilians were wounded by gunfire when a military patrol opened fire on a man fleeing his vehicle. He was stopped earlier for transporting migrants and ordered to take them to the IOM migrant center.5
Assassination attempt in the against the former rebel and MNJ military leader Amoumoune Kalakouwa, he survived only lightly injured. The assassination attempt took place in the Telwa valley area near Agadez. Kalakouwa is now within the ranks of the Nigerien forces and security advisor for the Prime Minister Brigi Rafini. It was later reported that the suspected assailants had been arrested in an area southwest of Agadez.2
– Early in the morning around 5h00, unidentified gunmen heavily armed attacked a Burkinabé army post in Intagom, 4 soldiers and 2 locals were killed in the attack, the attackers took control of the post and also attacked Burkinabé reinforcements, the assailants seized a technical and weapons before leaving. Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi’s Islamic state of Greater Sahara (ex-MUJAO) claimed responsibility for the attack according to the Mauritanian newsoutlet Alakhbar.1
– Gunmen armed with assault rifles aboard an ATV carried out a robbery around 5h30 this morning in Ouahigouya. The vehicle used by the assailants was later found in the Bangr Weogo Park, central Ouagadougou.3
– Unidentified gunmen attacked the locality of Kerboulé around 16h00, the gunmen clashed with the local self-defense group Koglweogo, and killed at least 4 people including 3 miners and 1 Koglweogo.1,2
– A terrorist suspect who managed to escape a raid by security forces in Kilwin was shot dead in following shootout around 2h in the area of Pasani, another 3 individuals are sought in connection to the events with 6 arrested earlier including 2 men and 4 women.1,4
– Algerian security forces opened fire on vehicles attempting to cross into Mali, a young man was killed by the gunfire, an incident that sparked tensions and protests for at least two days in the predominatly Tuareg border village of Tinzaouaten. Algerian security forces reportedly opened fire on the protesters, injuring a young man and a girl. A Tuareg activist on published photos on social media of an empty shell found at the site.4