Mali: Terrorism Report 

Background: The Northern Mali Conflict 

On 16 January 2012, several insurgent groups began fighting a campaign against the Malian government for independence and greater autonomy for northern Mali, an area known as Azawad. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an organization fighting to make Azawad an independent homeland for the Tuareg people, had taken control of the region in April 2012. They were assisted by Al-Qaeda (AQ) through its branch in Sub-Sahara Africa: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), formally known as Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). With AQIM came splinter organizations that take orders from AQ: Ansar Dine, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWO), and Al-Mulathameen  (“Those who Sign with Blood”). The partnership between AQIM and the MNLA would not last long as the Islamic Terror Groups had plans for the state of Azawad–they wanted to form an Islamic State.

In January 2013, France led Operation Serval, with the assistance of ECOWAS. It was an intervention, to repel the advance of the MNLA and Islamic Terror Groups (ITGs). The operation was successful in stopping and pushing back the MNLA & ITGs. From here, Mali would enter its insurgency phase of the conflict. Realizing defeat, the MNLA, withdrew from the fighting. At this time, MNLA was also involved in a number of clashes with ITGs.

AQIM and its affiliates withdrew its fighting forces to the border areas of Mali. The ITGs would switch to typical insurgency tactics; ITGs began to focus their campaign on hit and runs, ambushes, kidnapping and raids on soft targets.

  • Languages spoken in Mali:
    Bambara “Bamanankan” 80%
    French 21%
  • Official currency: West African CFA franc
  • Capital: Bamako
  • Land Size: 1,240,000 square kilometres / (480,000 sq mi)
  • Population: 17.99 million (2016) World Bank
  • Religion: 90% “Islam”/ 5% “Christianity”/ 5% “indigenous”
  • Current President 2017: Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta
  • Time zone: GMT (UTC+0)
  • Calling code: +223
  • Independence: from France 20 June 1960 as Mali 22 September 1960

Other Non-State Actors:

Below lies a list of non-state actors operating in Mali:

  1. National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) (Active)
  2. Coalition for the People of Azawad (Active)
  3. Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) (Active)
  4. Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA)

Mali Security Forces:

  1. National Police Force (Police Nationale du Mali)
  2. Gendarmerie
  3. Republican Guard
  4. National Guard
  5. Army
  6. Air Force
  7. Paramilitary units falling under the  “Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection”

Non-Mali Security Forces:

  1. France ECOWAS
  2. Chad
  3. Burundi
  4. Gabon
  5. South Africa
  6. Rwanda
  7. Tanzania
  8. Uganda
  9. China
  10. Germany
  11. Sweden
  12. United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)


Stated Aims of Islamic Terror Groups (ITGs):  

The aim of the Islamic Terror Groups (ITGs) is the construction of a caliphate with strict sharia law in the Merghreb and Shahel. All groups operating in the region aim to remove Western influence, and their short-term goal is to remove all foreign troops from Mali.

Relations with the Government: 

There are allegations of the corruption of local state officials in Northan Mali and surrounding areas, which indicates compliance with some of the ITGs. While financial motivation was most likely a factor, religious connections or tribal affiliations cannot be discounted. The ITGs are capable of exploiting the poor border security and corruption in the border regions to traffic arms and equipment though Mali’s borders, as well as to transport their personnel. This affects the ITG’s strike range and transportation, since attempts at strengthening the border security are unlikely to be implemented. If the current border security situation is kept up, it is highly likely that this will increase the ITG’s areas of operations (AO) as more state officials are likely to be included in the system.

Islamic Terror Groups (ITGs) in Mali 2017: 

In 2017 we saw the merger of some of the ITGs operating in Mali, Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin‘ (JNIM) (Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) is a jihadist terrorist organisation 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).