Terrorism in West Africa: Violence Erupts as Wanted Jihadist Leader Returns

By Soumaila Diarra AFKI Original Published: May 13, 2014, 2:14 pm
Tuareg Shepherd in Timbuktu Mali (Thinkstock)

In the run up to peace talks, secular militias in Mali faced attacks from jihadist armed groups that occupied the North.

According to analysts, recent attacks in the war-torn West African country were carried out by gunmen loyal to Iyad Ag Ghali, a terrorist chief wanted by American security services and acquainted with regional terrorist groups including Nigeria’s Boko Haram.

Local Fears

Local residents are concerned by recent the attacks from the jihadists who killed five United Nations soldiers on May 13 in the city of Kidal, where insecurity is high.

“People are afraid because we don’t know when there will be a bomb blast or shootings,” Mohamed Toure, a local resident, told AFKInsider via phone.

The jihadists have yet to claim the bomb blast that killed the blue helmets, but many locals think they are behind all the recent violent actions. While the Malian authorities want to resume negotiations with the armed groups and militias that renounced terrorism, people fear a failure of the peace settlement’s efforts.

“It will be difficult to settle peace in the North without a dialogue with Islamic militants who are the real armed forces in the region,” Oumar Cisse told AFKInsider.

Cisse, who is still in touch with relatives living in the North of Mali, is now an artisan based in the Malian capital Bamako. He left of the region Gao which was among the cities occupied in 2012 by the insurgency of jihadist groups. The secular movement of ethnic Tuareg, MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), also occupied the region then.

“The French military intervention removed the jihadists from the big cities, but they haven’t been totally defeated so far,” Cisse added.

Iyad who founded the terrorist group Ansar Dine now wants to be involved in the peace talk process. According to Cheick Sylla, a Bamako-based journalist who’s connected to the Sahel region’s Islamic organizations, the secular movement has been weak for several months.

Combating French soldiers

“Last March, Ibrahim Ag Assaleh, who is a former parliament member, decided to resign from MNLA to create his own movement, arguing that 70 percent of the militants are following him,” Sylla told AFKInsider.

Ansar Dine cooperates with other terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Nigeria’s Boko Haram.

“Iyad like many other senior members of those organizations are wanted by U.S. authorities who promise millions of dollar as premium to any citizen able to give information about them,” said Sylla added.

According to Malijet News, French military sources revealed Haroune Said, a high figure of Ansar Dine, died in late April during fighting in the North of Mali.

Military officials in France said two Islamic militants surrendered but they didn’t give enough information on the identity of the group they belong to. Malijet News also noted that the two combatants are child soldiers who have been transmitted to the organizations that take care of such cases.

Many analysts are convinced that French soldiers are fighting against Iyad whose come back may be facilitated by diplomatic efforts. Iyad has always been linked with Algeria, which is now in touch with the armed groups to make a peace settlement proposal to the Malian government, according to Sylla.

The Malian national television announced that Modibo Keita, a former Prime minister, was appointed on April 23 as the special representative of the Malian president for future negotiations with the armed groups. Keita said he will work in accordance with the preliminary peace agreement signed in June 2013 in Wagadougou, the capital of neighboring Burkina Faso.

“The peace agreement of Wagadougou was a bad agreement as the jihadist movements were not associated. The proof is that jihadist armed groups are coming back, as they are currently fighting in order to expand their authority,” Etienne Sissoko, a University of Bamako law professor said.

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