Amadou Koufa, the senior member of the Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), is alive—despite French forces claiming to have killed him.

The top militant commander purportedly died in a November 2018 raid led by French forces in the central Mopti region. French media shared the story that Koufa appeared “in a 19-minute-long video, answering questions presented by two people in both Arabic and English.” It’s the first sign of life from the fanatical preacher.

Koufa is commander of the Macina Liberation Front (MLF), a local terror group operating in Mali. The group was responsible for the 2015 Bamako attack on the luxury Radisson Blu hotel. MLF later partnered with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Malian Tuareg Iyad Ag Ghaly later merged other groups to form JNIM, which is when Koufa took a seat at the commander’s table.

Earlier this month, a statement issued by the office of the French Minister of Armies indicated that a ground and air assault by the task force Operation Barkhane—an anti-insurgent operation in Africa’s Sahel region—assassinated Algerian Yahya Abu al-Hammam and Tunisian Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi. French and Malian armies reported Koufa died in this raid also.

Here’s my analysis. This announcement comes as a tremendous setback to the great year France was having, and will further be a disappointment to the Mali Government and its forces. JNIM will exploit this opportunity to taunt the French government and gain further loyalty from locals who may have thought the group was falling apart.

Because of such factors, Iyad Ag Ghaly needed a display of strength, given recent reports that his leadership was crumbling. JNIM won’t wish to lose face with an Islamic State on the rise in a region—they can’t afford to look too weak. This could spell out tough times for al-Qaeda in the region, as France will exercise extreme force along with the international community to make right on the inaccurate statement about Koufa.

We shouldn’t disregard the point that releasing the video was a desperate action by JNIM due to substantial losses for the group in recent weeks. There’s no uncertainty in my mind that Koufa got injured during the French attack last year—this is the reason he’s been in hiding, and the reason he has not shown face publicly until now.

I think they’re feeling the pressure. Why else would they expose the fact that one of their commanders is alive? This puts the target firmly back on Koufa.

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