- Any progress in the Malian peace process is likely to be thwarted by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the AQIM-affiliated jihadist group, al-Mourabitoune, both of which appear to have increased resources, particularly explosives. UN and military bases, airports, and French assets in the north of Mali will continue to face a high risk of vehicle-borne suicide improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, with Bamako an increasingly likely target.
The monitoring group of the Algiers peace accord announced on 31 January that a high-level meeting between the signatories would soon be held to remove obstacles to the northern Malian peace process. Following last month's deadly attack in Gao, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) warned that anyone co-operating with the "colonisers" would be targeted.
In a first step towards implementation of the June 2015 Malian peace accord signed by the government, pro-government Plateforme militias, and the separatist Coordination des Mouvements de l'Azawad (CMA), joint military patrols were scheduled in Gao in January, with an initial group of CMA fighters entering the town on 7 January. However, in the lead-up to this development, Islamist militants stepped up attacks in Gao, the main town in northern Mali with the largest concentration of foreign and Malian troops, as well as foreign civilian UN employees and NGO workers. On 18 January, al-Mourabitoune, which is affiliated to AQIM, claimed responsibility for a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) attack targeting the Operational Coordination Mechanism (OCM) base, which houses Malian soldiers and ex-rebels responsible for joint patrols. At least 60, mostly military personnel, were killed and over 100 injured. Earlier, on 29 November 2016, al-Morabitoune claimed responsibility for an SVBIED attack that destroyed UN offices at Gao airport. The same day, AQIM claimed responsibility for rockets fired at Timbuktu airport, while a French aid worker was kidnapped from her Gao home on 25 December, most likely by al-Mourabitoune.
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