UN peacekeepers have indicated that they will establish a 20-kilometer “security zone” around the town of Kidal after fighting erupted over the weekend, breaking a ceasefire established in the northern region of the country.
The UN Peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) has indicated that they are declaring a security zone around Kidal “to avoid any possible extension of the fighting that could affect the population of the town.” The zone will take effect as of 0800 GMT Tuesday and will “remain until further notice.” According to the mission, any movement within the zone by pro-government Tuareg forces or their allies “will be deemed to constitute an imminent danger to the security of the population of the town of Kidal,” stressing that the peacekeeping force will “act in accordance with its mandate” in the event of any violation.
The move follows deadly clashes between a pro-government group and Tuareg rebels. According to a regional security source, the fighting erupted Monday at Agnefis, about 120 kilometres (74 miles) south of the strategic town of Kidal, “killing several people.” In a statement, MINUSMA officials disclosed that it was a “blatant violation” of the recently agreed Mali peace deal, known as the Algiers Accord, adding “the international community, as well as the population, is concerned by the increasing number of these violations, which could hinder the progress made towards a stable and lasting peace in Mali.” While a MINUSMA security source has indicated that the clashes left “at least 10 dead and many injured,” Fahad Ag Almahmoud, a top official from the pro-government Imghad Tuareg group disclosed that 15 people were killed, including those of some military leaders from the main Tuareg rebel group Coordination of Movements for Azawad (CMA). On Monday afternoon, Ag Almahmoud stated that “the situation has stabilized. The fighting has temporarily stopped.” Security sources however have indicated that they are concerned about the eruption of clashes, particularly as both sides have used heavy weaponry. One source indicated that during Mali’s rainy season, many of the roads become impassable in the north and groups end up fighting each other for control of roads used for trafficking. MINUSMA has indicated that it will carry out investigations to determine responsibility for the ceasefire violation, adding that any findings will be forwarded to the UN Security Council.
On Tuesday (11 August), last week’s deadly hostage drama, which killed 13 people including five UN workers, was claimed by fighters linked to Algerian jihadi leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar. The militant group also claimed responsibility for a roadside bombing that occurred Monday.
A radical, who is associated with militant Malian Islamic leader Amadou Koufa, stated that he gave his “blessing” for the attack on the Byblos Hotel in the central Malian town of Sevare. Koufa has ties to Belmokhtar, a former head of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) who leads Al-Murabitoun. According to Souleymane Mohamed Kennen, the group also claimed responsibility for the killing of three Malian soldiers on Monday, when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device close to Diabozo, which is located near Sevare. While the US had reported that it has targeted Belmokhtar in an airstrike in the Libyan desert in June, AQIM has denied reports that its former leader had been killed.
The claim of responsibility comes just a day after investigators disclosed that they have found phone numbers and addresses on the bodies of the “terrorists” killed in the Sevare hotel, which suggested that they were affiliated with the Macina Liberation Front (FLM), which is a new Islamic extremist group drawn from the Fulani people of central Mali. According to one investigator, “at this stage, there is no formal proof that it was the Macina Liberation Front, but strong suspicions point to this group that has been seeking notoriety at all costs.” Officials are reporting that this new extremist group is drawn from the Fulani people of central Mali and that it has links to Ansar Dine.
Meanwhile on Thursday (13 August), a policeman and a civilian were wounded when gunmen opened fire on a police outpost in the capital city in an attack that a Malian government minister has insisted is an “isolated act.” According to Interior minister Sada Samake, the attackers arrived at a busy bus station in a taxi before opening fore in the police post, injuring two people. The minister confirmed that officials “…have opened an investigation” into what he called an “isolated act.”
Militants stormed a hotel hosting United Nations staff in central Mali on Friday, seizing hostages and killing at least thirteen, including UN contractors and Malian soldiers in what is one of the most brazen attacks to occur in months.
The siege began Friday, when gunmen stormed a hotel in central Mali in an apparent attempt to kidnap Westerners. The attackers launched the assault on the Byblos hotel, in the town of Sevare, in the early hours of Friday in what military sources and local resident reported appeared to be a bid to abduct foreign guests. A military source has disclosed that Malian troops surrounded the hotel and shot dead one of the attackers who was wearing an explosive belt. The Malian army, along with foreign Special Forces, later stormed the building, brining the siege to an end nearly 24 hours later.
The UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has reported that two Ukrainians, a Nepalese and a South African were killed during the siege and subsequent military operation, as well as a Malian driver who was working for a company contracted by the mission. An army officer reported that “five terrorists” were killed in the operation as well as five soldiers.
Residents have reported that the army mounted patrols overnight following the siege. On the ground sources have disclosed that soldiers could be seen in Sevare as well as along the road to the nearby regional capital Mopti, which is a popular tourist destination and the gateway to Dogon County, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sevare is located about 600 kilometres (375 miles) north of the capital, Bamako.
On Sunday, Malian authorities sought to identify the perpetrators of the hotel siege. No one has claimed responsibility for the assault, which comes during a surge in jihadist attacks in the region. The Malian government has reported that three of the attackers were killed, and seven suspected militants were detained, adding that four UN employees were rescued. The first attack to be carried out by Islamic extremists in a central Malian town indicates that militants operating in the region are spreading their aggression, targeting the government, military and the UN peacekeeping force.
In a separate incident, gunmen killed ten civilians in an attack on the village of Gaberi in northern Mali. Residents reported that the village attack began Saturday evening when three men arrived on motorbikes and infiltrate Gaberi, which is located in the Timbuktu region. Sources have disclosed that the resident opened fire on the attackers, killing one of them. Residents reported the following day that “the attackers came back this morning firing everywhere. There are nine or ten dead. People have deserted the village and set up camp around 4 km away.” Some residents have reported that they doubt that the attackers were Islamist militants, with one resident disclosing that the initial attack appeared to have been an attempted robbery, with the attackers returning later on with reinforcements.
These latest attacks are indicative of worsening security in Mali. Especially around the Timbuktu regions, as officials have reported more attacks on villagers and people on the road to market. According to Guillaume N’Gefa, human rights director for the UN Mission, “these are serious crimes by armed groups we cannot identify. The modus operandi is always the same. They attack a village and steal and then disappear. They are well-organized. These are not mere bandits.
According to military sources, Malian troops destroyed two jihadist camps and arrested fifteen suspected militants in what is the latest operation combatting radical Islamist groups near the southern border with the Ivory Coast.
A military officer has reported that “during new military operations in the area, we arrested 15 new jihadists and destroyed a new sanctuary of theirs in the region of Sikasso, on the border with Ivory Coast.” The source further disclosed that amongst the jihadists that were arrested was a radical preacher who “came from Ivory Coast in order to build a mosque in a Malian village where he would impose his law.” Military sources have also reported that troops seized arms, explosives and motorbikes in a raid on another camp near the frontier town of Fakola, which was targeted by militants on 28 June. The attack was later claimed by Islamist group Ansar Dine.
This latest raid also comes after Malian troops last week killed several jihadists in the Sikasso region, which is also located near the border with the Ivory Coast. During that raid, troops also destroyed the insurgents’ camp in a forest straddling the frontier.
While jihadist attacks are normally confined to Mali’s restive northern desert region, since the beginning of this year, militants have also targeted towns bordering Mauritania, in attacks that appear to indicate that militant groups are expanding their areas of operation.
On Sunday, gunmen, identified as Islamic extremists, launched an attack and briefly occupied a village in southern Mali, near the border with Ivory Coast, before being forced out by security forces. This is the second attack to be carried out by suspected Islamic extremists over the weekend, and has prompted Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to convene a meeting of defense officials in the capital, Bamako, in order to discuss the security situation.
Sunday’s attack in southern Mali targeted the village of Fakola, located 15 kilometres (9 miles) north of the Ivory Coast border in the southern region of Sikasso. According to Mamadou Tangara, mayor of the regional capital Sikasso, the militants burned administrative buildings as well as a building that was being used as a local base for military police. Officials have reported that none of the military police officers sustained any injuries as they had left the village prior to the attack beginning. Residents have reported that assailants in the area cut the phone network. By late afternoon, security forces stationed nearby had driven the attackers out. A senior military official blamed the attack on a group of ethnic Peuhls infiltrated by fighters believed to be link to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The military source has suggested that the attackers could be the same group who attacked the village of Misseni in Sikasso earlier this month. The group, known as the Massina Liberation Front, is also suspected of clashing with government troops in the central Mopti region this month and has been blamed for several recent attacks.
On Saturday, at least twelve people, including three soldiers, were killed when suspected extremists attacked the village of Nara, located 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of the border with Mauritania. A statement released by the Malian government disclosed that gunfire erupted at around 5:00 AM local time. While the statement did not identify the assailants, a senior army officer has disclosed that military intelligence and initial witness accounts indicate that the attackers were Islamist fighters mainly from the Peuhl ethnic group. On Sunday, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita held a defense council meeting. Officials have since reported that the government will increase security in the border regions with Ivory Coast and Mauritania.
On Monday, the Malian government appealed for calm a day after jihadists ransacked a town near the Ivory Coast border in what is the second attack to occur in the south in less than three weeks. A government statement released Monday disclosed that the army has been deployed to the area to hunt down the militants, who escaped after ending their brief occupation. The statement read, “the government of the republic of Mali strongly condemns these barbaric attacks aimed at sabotaging the actions for peace and stability in Mali… The government…asks the population to remain calm and cooperate with the defense and security forces in their fight against terrorism.”
While incursions in the south remain extremely rare, the group was said to have been behind an ambush that occurred less than three weeks ago in the nearby town of Misseni, when jihadists killed a policeman and hoisted their flag at a military base.