Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) is a jihadi terrorist organization in the Maghreb and West Africa, formed by the merger of Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front, Al-Mourabitoun, and the Saharan branch of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It is the official branch of al-Qaeda in Mali, after its leaders swore allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri (AQ).
Recently, 10 U.N. peacekeepers from Chad were killed and 25 others injured in a brutal attack on a United Nations (U.N.) camp in northern Mali. The U.N. press wing at the time attributed the attack to JNIM, claiming it was in reaction to the tour of Chad by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Above: A suicide bomber involved in the attack
They reported that the strike on the U.N. camp in Aguelhoc, in the northern part of Mali’s Kidal region, was sophisticated and unexpected. Mali is haunted by the presence of several armed terrorist groups, some connected with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), others breaking off from al-Qaeda.
The U.N. has deployed about 12,000 troops in its MINUSMA mission in Mali, which the U.N. ranks as the most treacherous state for the Blue Helmets. The Irish Rangers, a new extension to the peacekeepers, factor into this number.
Mali is one of the largest states in Africa but remains one of the weakest in the region. The Mali government has been attempting to bring about peace after al-Qaeda teamed up with Tuareg fighters and seized control of the northern areas of the state in early 2012, prompting France to intervene militarily (Operation Serval).
A French Foreign Legion-led operation in 2013 took back large parts of the country, but substantial parts of the Sahel state remain outside of government control. This is due to the topography and the opposition’s ability to run cross-border operations, linking up with criminal groups in the region to aid them. With Libya, Niger, and Burkina Faso having porous borders, these fighters can take shelter in protected areas outside of Mali.
The international community has criticized the government of Mali for their failure to curb the violence. Ultimately, to stem the tide of these Islamist fighters, there must be a stronger sense of how these groups move between the borders and continue to acquire large amounts of firearms and ammunition. Much of that can be attributed to their networking with criminal groups and their involvement in drug trafficking, human trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, and racketeering.
As long as these groups can maintain these illegal activities, the attacks will continue. Rather than trading blows with the terrorist groups permeating Mali, the U.N. and its counterparts—this includes France—should strive to set up a force focused entirely on cracking down on illegal activities such as those mentioned above in order to cripple the Islamists’ supply chain and finances. Only when this has been implemented will the violence be curbed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad.