Terrorism & Insurgency

Southern Mali attack highlights likelihood of jihadist conflict reaching coastal West Africa, targeting foreigners, churches, mining companies

22 May 2019

A French soldier of the Barkhane Force operation stands at a Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) base on 27 March 2019. Source: Daphne Benoit/AFP/Getty Images

On 19 May, seven people were killed in a jihadist attack on a border post at Koury in Mali's southern Sikasso region, near the Burkina Faso border. The attack comes amid warnings and assaults in coastal Ghana, Togo, and Benin, previously unaffected by terrorism, as well as Cote d'Ivoire, which, since the 2016 Islamist attack in Grand Bassam, has also resisted jihadism.

  • Attack and kidnap risks will increase in tourist centres and mining regions of Mali, Ghana, Benin, Togo, and Cote d'Ivoire bordering Burkina Faso . Southern Mali has also been relatively unaffected by jihadism after terrorist cells were largely dismantled in 2016. The latest attack suggests the creation of a new cell, particularly after the arrest in December 2018 of four suspected militants in nearby Koutiala who were allegedly plotting New Year attacks in Abidjan, Bamako, and Ouagadougou. The May 2019 abduction of two French tourists in Benin's northern Pendjari National Park, northern Togolese counter-terrorism operations, warnings of church attacks in Ghana, and Ivorian troops on maximum alert in northern areas are further indicators of an expanding terrorist threat in the region. Burkina Faso's vulnerability because of poor security provision has allowed jihadists and local proxies such as Ansarul Islam to spread rapidly across the country, opening a gateway to the coast. France has advised its citizens against visiting the Cinkassé to Mandouri zone in northern Togo and to avoid walking near seafront hotels in Lomé. Touristic areas such as national parks and venues frequented by expatriates in major cities of all four coastal countries are at risk of small-arms assaults and improvised explosive device attacks, raising the likelihood of death, injury, and kidnap-for-ransom. Jihadists, who have already carried out several attacks against mining companies in Burkina Faso, are also likely to aim for new mining targets in Mali's Sikasso region, Wa in northern Ghana, and the Tongon gold mine in northern Cote d'Ivoire.

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