Terrorism & Insurgency

Islamist militant attacks in northern Mali increasingly likely to escalate

30 September 2013

United Nations peacekeepers from Burkina Faso search a house suspected to have been used by Islamists, in Timbuktu, Mali, during a patrol, on 23 July 2013. Source: PA


Media reports of ongoing low-level skirmishes in Kidal, a stronghold of the Tuareg movement, continued on 30 September between soldiers belonging to the Malian army and Tuaregs of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (Mouvement Nationale pour la Libération de l'Azawad: MNLA).

The shooting started yesterday following a grenade attack on 27 September against Malian soldiers, who were guarding a local bank in Kidal, causing serious injuries to two of them. On 28 September, in the northern town of Timbuktu, a separate incident occurred involving a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attack near a military camp, resulting in the death of two suicide bombers and two passers-by, and several injuries to others in the vicinity. The attacks came in the wake of an announcement by the three main armed groups in northern Mali that they were suspending their participation in current peace negotiations with the government in Bamako.

The VBIED was the first since the election of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in July 2013. His administration has demonstrated commitment and the political will to the peace process by releasing some Tuareg detainees and creating a dedicated ministry for the reconciliation and development of the northern regions. In spite of the government's goodwill gesture aimed at inspiring confidence in the peace process, the deep-seated mistrust and animosity between the Malian army and the Tuaregs will pose a serious challenge to a durable peace deal in the north.

No groups have yet claimed responsibility for the VBIED in Timbuktu and grenade attacks in Kidal. However, the Kidal and Timbuktu attacks appear to carry the hallmarks of the MNLA and the Islamist militants respectively. Islamist militants are increasingly planning to carry out attacks in Mali and neighbouring countries as demonstrated by the late August merger of Mokhtar Belmokthar's Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group and MUJAO (Mouvement pour l'Unicité et le Jihad en Afrique de l'Ouest).


Worsening relations between the Malian army and the rebels would only help to increase the risk of civil war, as well as IED and gun attacks by Islamist militants against the UN peacekeeping mission, government and security targets.

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