ISIS pushes farther into West African country of Mali, raising fears of violence

21 April 2018, Bamako, Mali. The Djicoroni Para market in Mali's capital has given a new opportunity to Hamady Touré who now works here. The market is a secure place for Touré that is far away from his native region where ISIS affiliated groups endanger trade.BAMAKO, Mali - Hamady Touré, commercial agent, worries about his relatives who live in Menaka, a town around 730 miles northeast of Bamako, the Malian capital.

The Islamic State in the Sahel, a division of the terrorist organization, has been putting down roots in the months since its jihadists killed American soldiers in neighboring Niger in October 2017, according to Touré, government officials and others.

They join already an active chapter of Al Qaeda whose members drove a car bomb into a military base near Timbuktu, killing a United Nations peacekeeper and wounded seven French troops on April 14.

"Three days don’t go by without one hearing the news of an assassination by the terrorists,” said Touré, who helps companies find customers in the massive West African country. “There is something to be afraid of. The worst thing is that vehicles carrying civilians drive on explosive devices that the terrorists place.”

Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs Tiéman Hubert Coulibaly took the Islamic State threat seriously.

"The current momentum in the Middle East can have consequences for the stability of Mali and the rest of the Sahel region,” he said, adding that he was afraid Islamic State fighters might leave Iraq and Syria and redeploy in Africa.

Those fears are growing despite the international response to the terror threat in Mali.

Around five years ago, the UN sent 15,000 peacekeepers to Mali. France has 4,000 troops in the region. Five regional countries - Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – have created a joint force of 5,000 troops to secure their borders against rampaging militants, too.

Additionally, Malian officials and ethnic Tuareg rebels who sought more autonomy for their northern region singed a peace agreement in 2015, ending years of war. Today, many Tuareg militias that signed the 2015 agreement are helping in the fight against the Islamic State.

“The main target of these armed terrorists is none other than the local authorities and religious leaders,” said Fahad Almahmoud, spokesperson of the Tuareg Imghad and Allies Self-Defense Group, a Tuareg militia.

In their patrols near the border with Niger, the self-defense group and another Tuareg force, the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad recently claimed to have found the vehicle of the four American soldiers killed in Niger in late 2017. They circulated photos of the vehicle that appeared accurate. The groups are now discussing how to give the vehicle to U.S. authorities.

But opposition politician Tiébilé Dramé said the government needed to do more. Despite the international help, more terrorists appear to be moving into Mali while ordinary citizens are seeing little reason to believe in their leaders, he said.

"The fault is the current governance that is bad,” said Dramé. “More than 500 schools are closed in the center of the country because of insecurity.”

The security situation in Mali has been precarious for at least three years.

In November 2015, Islamist militants killed 20 people at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and a local terror group were blamed. Several local jihadist groups joined forces to create a bigger organization affiliated to Al Qaeda a year ago, too.

The terrorists have lost battles, too. Last month, they claimed to have killed a lieutenantof Adnan Abu Walid, leader of the Islamic State in the Sahel.Abu Walid has disseminated numerous jihadist propaganda videos in the region.

Critics have said the militias have too much power, too, however.

Last month, a UN report said the Tuareg Imghad and Allies Self-Defense Group and the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad conducted extra-judicial executions, illegal arrests and detentions, recruiting child soldiers and other human rights violations in the country’s north.

“It is necessary that both the Government and the armed groups investigate serious violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by their structures and their members,” said Special Representative of the Secretary General Mongi Hamdi when the report was published. “This is in the interest of victims’ rights and for the reconciliation and establishment of a lasting peace in Mali.”

France recently proposed that the UN impose sanctions against warlords who impede the 2015 deal.

In the south, Malian army and Dozo hunters – a traditional armed group – stand accused of similar abuses against the Fulani ethnic community, a Muslim people with Arab roots who are often accused of harboring loyalties to extremists.

"The Malian army is making summary executions of civilians suspected of terrorism,” said Nouhoum Cissé, a member of a defense organization of ethnic Fulanis. “In the center of the country, when you have the appearance of a Fulani, you can be suspected of terrorism.”

For centuries, Malians and Fulanis lived together in harmony, said Cissé. Now they are poised to kill each other. He noted that terror attacks have also driven the Dogon, an indigenous people attached to African cults and values, to create self-defense militias, too. Dogon and Fulani groups have clashed as a result.

The chaos doesn’t strengthen Mali against militants, said Cissé.

“The question is who benefits from this situation. It does not benefit the Dogon. It does not benefit the Fulani,” said Cissé. “Those who benefit are the terrorist groups.”

An alternative version of this story can be found in USA Today.
You are here: Home Newsroom Sub-Saharan Africa ISIS pushes farther into West African country of Mali, raising fears of violence