At least fifty people were killed in a car bomb attack on a military base in northern Mali on Wednesday in what is one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in the country. Officials have disclosed that a vehicle packed with explosives detonated at a camp housing soldiers and members of rival armed groups in the region’s main city, Gao. The attack occurred around 9 AM (0900 GMT). Three days of national mourning have been declared.
The northern Malian desert region has been restive since it was captured by militant Islamists in late 2012. While a French military intervention in 2013 ousted the militants from the main cities in the region, the area remains tense, with attacks being reported on a nearly weekly basis. Since 2015, the threat has spread to the rest of the country, particularly in the southern-most region of Sikasso, as well as in the capital city of Bamako, where terrorist attacks and banditry have become more frequently since Spring 2015. In recent months, the situation in Mali has deteriorated and there has been a rise attacks that have been reported in the central region of the country.
Attacks in Mali have targeted both civilians and the Malian Defense and Security Forces (MDSF) as well as United Nations peacekeepers deployed in the country (MINUSMA). Terrorists have targeted Malian government outposts and bases camps for MINUSMA. In March 2016, heavily armed assailants attacked the European Union’s Training Mission (EUTM) headquarters and primary residence in Bamako. Furthermore, incidents in neighboring states, particularly Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, have been linked to instability in Mali.
The deterioration of the security situation in central and northern Mali, coupled with inter-ethnic violence, are urgent issues that need to be addressed in order for stability in Mali to return. A major issue however has been the slow implementation of an agreement between the Malian government and coalition-armed groups.
Due to ongoing terrorist attacks and criminal violence, MS Risk continues to warn against all travel to the following regions of Mali:
- The provinces of Timbuktu, Kidal, Gao and Mopti
- Parts of the provinces of Kayes, Koulikoro and Segou
MS Risk currently advises against all but essential travel to the remainder of the country, including the capital Bamako. Mali remains under a state of emergency, which will be in place until 29 March 2017.
The security environment across the country remains fluid and the potential for attacks throughout Mali, including in Bamako, remains high. Terrorist groups in the region are intent on carrying out attacks and kidnapping Westerners. Terrorist targets could include government buildings, public areas such as bars, restaurants and tourist sites, as well as Western interests. Citizens of countries supporting the military intervention are at a particular risk, however all travellers should exercise increased vigilance.
Anyone currently in Mali is strongly advised to remain vigilant and aware of your surroundings at all times. We advise that you exercise caution, especially at night. Due to the ongoing state of emergency, heightened security measures are in place, including random identity checks and roadblocks. You are advised to carry identification and follow the instructions of local authorities at all times. When travelling, we advise that you use varied and unpredictable routes and schedules. You should exercise particular caution when travelling on motorways, in rural areas and in residential areas in Bamako – even during daylight hours. We advise that you avoid all road travel after dark.
Establishments in Bamako frequented by foreigners have been targeted by terrorist attacks. These attacks have caused deaths and injuries. If you are in Bamako, we advise that you avoid travelling in urban areas after dark, particularly in places that are frequented by foreigners.
The threat of terrorism and kidnap is extremely high in northern Mali. Rebel forces, terrorist groups and criminal networks continue to operate relatively freely throughout this region and Malian security forces cannot ensure the safety of foreign travellers. The lack of infrastructure, reliable transportation, safe hotels and emergency services further exacerbate the security conditions in Northern Mali.
There is a high threat of kidnap throughout Mali but particularly in the northern regions of the country and in all border areas. Westerners are a preferred target. Some hostages have been detained for months before being released while some have been killed.
Border Areas with Ivory Coast
Since 25 June 2015, terrorist and criminal incidents have been reported in the border areas with the Ivory Coast. Clashes between Malian authorities and other armed groups have occurred in the Misseni and Fakola sectors.
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.
Over the past week, the United Nations mission in Mali has suffered three attacks, resulting in several deaths and growing concerns that jihadists operating in the region are once again gaining strength.
On Monday, UN officials in Mali reported that a driver was killed in an ambush on a peacekeeping supply convoy in northern Mali in what is the third deadly assault on the mission in less than a week. A statement released by the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping mission indicated that the civilian contractors were targeted at 11:30 AM, around 30 kilometres (20 miles) west of Gao, adding “initial reports indicate that at least one driver was killed, his truck was later set on fire.”
MINUSMA chief Mongi Hamdi has condemned the attacks, stating that the UN “…will adjust our security arrangements so that such crimes are not repeated. MINUSMA cannot tolerate this.” He has called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice and has urged the Malian military and police to increase security in the area. It was not immediately clear how the victim was killed however Monday’s attack comes just days after two drivers were shot dead as a MINUSMA supply convoy was ambushed nearby.
On Saturday, the UN reported that two drivers have been shot dead after a peacekeeping supply convoy was attacked in northern Mali. According to a statement released by MINUSMA, two assailants stopped the convoy some 15 kilometres (9 miles) from the main city of Gao and “coldly killed two drivers” in the attack which occurred late Friday. They later set the vehicles on fire. Officials have disclosed that a third person was wounded in the attack. No group has claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack, however the incident comes just days after an attack on the UN peacekeeping base in the same region as Gao, in which three civilians were killed and sixteen people were wounded. Al-Mourabitoun has claimed responsibility for that attack.
A suicide bomber attacked a UN barracks in northern Mali on Wednesday, killing three civilians and wounding sixteen people, including several peacekeepers. According to UN officials, the militant was attempting to drive into a camp used by the UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Ansong, in the northern region of Gao, when the explosives went off. A statement released by MINUSMA disclosed, “the attack left nine injured, two seriously, among the peacekeepers from the Niger contingent. In addition, the explosion has killed at least three civilians. Seven (civilians) were also injured.” The UN mission in Mali has not disclosed whether the bomber was acting alone or if there were others in the vehicle.
In a recording released Friday, an al-Qaeda-linked group, led by Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide attack that targeted the UN mission in Mali on Wednesday. In an audio message that was sent to Mauritanian news agency Alakhbar, which frequently publishes statements attributed to extremist groups that operate in the region, Belmokhtar’s al-Murabitoun group indicated that it had carried out the attack. The group disclosed that it had targeted Nigerien nationals because their president, Mahamadou Issoufou, had taken part in the mass Paris rally over the jihadist attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January. They further added that the attack was also an act of revenge for Niger allowing French and American troops on its soil, and described Wednesday’s attack as “the second operation to avenge insults against the Prophet,” referring to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon depictions of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed. While the Malian government had initially reported that a civilian MINUSMA worker and a child were killed in the attack, adding that the suicide bomber was also killed and 21 people, including several peacekeepers, were wounded, al-Murabitoun has denied that any civilians were killed, arguing that this would not have been possible “given the distance between the camp and the town.”
It appears that al-Murabitoun is increasingly gaining strength and ability to carry out deadly attacks in Mali, with the militant group most recently claiming responsibility for the 7 March attack on a Bamako nightclub. Al-Murabitoun was formed in 2013 from the merger of Belmokhtar’s Signatories in Blood group and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). Belmoktar, a former al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) chief, is wanted by the security services of several countries after allegedly masterminding a siege in January 2013 of an Algerian gas plan, in which thirty-eight hostages were killed. He is also believed to have been behind twin car bombings that occurred in Niger in May of that year and which killed at least twenty people. Belmokhtar, who is thought to be based in Libya, has been designated a foreign terrorist by the United States, with the State Department offering a US $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.
Militants operating in northern Mali have staged a number of deadly attacks on UN forces, with at least 35 peacekeepers killed and over 140 wounded since MINUSMA was deployed in July 2013. The camp targeted on Wednesday is situated near the scene of the killing of a Red Cross worker two weeks ago. That attack was claimed by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). Last month, a Chadian peacekeeper and two children died when militants fired more than thirty rockets at a UN barracks in the northern city of Kidal.
Security sources disclosed Wednesday that an attack overnight in northern Mali by a pro-government armed group using suicide bombers, killed a dozen people. According to a military source, “GATIA fighters, accompanied by suicide bombers, attacked a rebel Tuareg and anti-government Arab position in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday near the town of Tabankort. There were a dozen deaths in total.” A security source from the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, also confirmed the death toll, adding that two fighters blew themselves up while a third was killed before he was able to detonate his explosives. The overnight attack comes as renewed violence has once again affected the northern region of the country.
Over the past several days, tensions have been rising across the country as protesters have demanded that the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali withdraw. Tensions have risen in the wake of a UN military mission last week, which targeted rebels near Tabankort. Furthermore, the signing of an agreement over the weekend to create a “temporary security zone” in the Tabankort district of the region of Gao, has resulted in demonstrations, with protesters calling for the UN mission to leave.
On Tuesday, three people were killed in northern Mali after a second day of demonstrations against the UN military missions. On the ground sources have described how a large crowd of angry youths threw stones and attempted to storm the MINUSMA headquarters in Gao in protest at the UN taking control of a troubled area north of the city. An official in the ministry for security and civil protection confirmed the deaths, adding that the situation in the area remained “very tense.” According to Arnaud Akodjenou, deputy representative of the MINUSMA force, “our officers were besieged by protesters this morning, but I can tell you that no one from MINUSMA fired on the demonstrators. Absolutely no order was given to use weapons,” adding “we are in very close contact with the Malian authorities.” A youth leader in Gao however has rejected this statement, instead blaming UN troops for the deaths of the demonstrators. According to Ousmane Dicko, of the Youth Collective activist group, “MINUSMA shot at us. MINUSMA killed civilians. We demand the departure of MINUSMA from Mali.”
Demonstrators in Gao are protesting an agreement to create a “temporary security zone” in the Tabankort district of the region of Gao. The agreement, which was reached between MINUSMA and three rebel groups – the High Council for the Unity of Azawad, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and an anti-government wing of the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) – places the zone under the exclusive control of UN troops and guarantees “the free movement of people and goods.” The area is controlled by pro-government militias who have in recent weeks clashed with armed rebels, leading to the deaths of both civilians and fighters. According to a local government source, the creation of the zone “will force loyalist armed groups to disarm or abandon their posts.” Sources have reported that loyalist armed movements, including the Imghad and Allies Tuareg Self-Defence Group, as well as a pro-government wing of the MAA and various vigilante groups, “strongly encouraged” the demonstration.
The latest violence comes over a week after MINUSMA helicopters destroyed a rebel vehicle near Tabankort, north of Gao, in what MINUSMA officials have maintained was in “self-defence.” The attack on 20 January followed what MINUSMA described as “direct fire with heavy weapons” on its peacekeepers. Rebel groups however have indicated that the action, which killed seven militants and left twenty wounded, violated UN neutrality. The strikes sparked demonstrations hostile to MINUSMA in the northeastern rebel stronghold of Kidal.
Days after nine Nigerien peacekeepers were killed in northern Mali, on Tuesday a Senegalese United Nations peacekeeper was killed when a joint French-UN military camp in the northern Malian town of Kidal was hit by rocket fire.
Olivier Salgado, spokesman for the UN force, which is known as MINUSMA, confirmed the attack, stating that between six and eight rockets had been fired at the camp. Officials in Senegal later confirmed that the peacekeeper who was killed in the attack was a member of Senegal’s 845-strong contingent deployed in Mali as part of the UN’s peacekeeping mission. Two other Senegalese peacekeepers were lightly injured.
While it remains unclear who is behind the latest attack, sources believe that Iyad Ag Ghaly, who led a Tuareg rebellion in the Sahara before forming Ansar Dine, may be the reason why Islamist insurgents operating in the region have recently increased their attacks on UN peacekeepers operating in Mali. After disappearing in January 2013, shortly after French troops intervened in a bid to drive Islamist insurgents away from the capital Bamako, Iyad Ag Ghaly resurfaced last month, issuing a video message signalling a return to combat. In the video, he indicated that his group was “ready to unite with our brothers on the ground to face up to the crusaders and infidels who have united to fight Islam in our land.” Sources from UN’s MINUSMA force in Mali believe that his militant group is likely behind the recent attacks however the reduction of French troops, coupled with the absence of Malian troops from the region, has also likely contributed to the recent upsurge of militant activity. UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous has also attributed the instability in southern Libya to the recent increase in attacks, stating that it is “a factor that plays a role in the fact that these jihadists…have restarted their activities. They have without doubt re-acquired equipment.”
On Friday, nine UN soldiers, all from neighbouring Niger, were killed in the northeastern desert region when armed men on motorbikes targeted them. That attack was claimed by a militant with links to Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). Friday’s attack brought the number of deaths in the UN mission since its deployment in July 2013 to thirty. Three Senegalese peacekeepers have now died in northern Mali.
For a period of ten months in 2012, Islamist groups Ansar Dine, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and MUJAO occupied the northern desert region of Mali, a region that makes up nearly two thirds of the country, before they were ousted by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013. While stability has generally been brought back to the region, militants have continued to carry out attacks, specifically targeting French troops. UN troops are now trying to stabilize the northern region while peace talks between the Malian government and Tuaregs continue.