Four United Nations peacekeepers were killed Tuesday (September 2nd) and another 15 injured when their truck was blown up in northern Mali.
The attack on the Chadian convoy on the Kidal-Aguelhok road came just days after al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed credit for a series of deadly assaults on Mali peacekeepers.
In an audio recording released on Saturday, the jihadist organisation’s spokesman, Abdarrahmane al-Azawadi, claimed responsibility on behalf of AQIM for the August 16th suicide bombing in Ber, 60km to the east of Timbuktu. That attack left two Burkinabe troops dead.
He also mentioned two other attacks in June on MINUSMA vehicles, one in Goundam (45km from Timbuktu) and another 13km from Timbuktu.
Al-Azawadi also said that AQIM launched Grad rockets at Timbuktu Airport on July 12th. The spokesman issued a threat that there would be more attacks on French forces.
This upsurge in AQIM activity is causing concern for MINUSMA forces.
Burkina Faso authorities drew this concern to the attention of the head of MINUSMA, General Jean Bosco Kazura, during his visit to Ouagadougou on August 29th.
While in the Burkinabe capital, General Kazura met the chief of staff of the armed forces of Burkina Faso, Brigadier General Nabere Honore Traore, and other military leaders.
The MINUSMA commander admitted that “security measures were needed “to better protect all contingents deployed on the ground”.
“We performed a security assessment and informed the general of the concerns that we have on the ground about this mission in Mali,” Brigadier General Traore said.
Django Couloubali, a Malian analyst, said: “The security situation has changed a great deal since Operation Serval. By claiming responsibility, AQIM is trying in vain to draw attention to itself, but in reality, nothing will be the same again. AQIM’s room for manoeuvre is now very limited because it is being watched closely.”
“We just need to be very vigilant, because terrorists are always inclined to strike when the opportunity arises,” Couloubali told Magahrebia, adding that the arrests of several AQIM members in Timbuktu “prove that they are no longer in control on the ground”.
Sidati Ould Cheikh, an expert on terrorism, remarked: “AQIM has been running out of steam since Operation Serval, but the organisation is not admitting defeat and its aim is to regain the ground it has lost, which will of course be very difficult.”
“The measures taken by MINUSMA and Barkhane are proving completely effective. For example, several members of AQIM were arrested close to Timbuktu on August 10th as part of Operation Barkhane. The suspects had formed a cell in the sector. They included an associate of Yahia Abou El Hammam, the Algerian leader of AQIM in the Sahel,” the terror expert continued.
“The latter is believed to be an associate of Iyad Ag Ghali, the Malian leader of Ansar al-Din, who recently appeared in a video posted on the internet in which he called for people to fight France and its allies. So this was a heavy blow for the organisation,” Ould Cheikh said.
He also noted improved regional co-ordination in the fight against terrorism.
“Between July 27th and August 15th, a tripartite mission was conducted on the border between Mali and Mauritania by servicemen involved in Operation Barkhane and Malian and Mauritanian soldiers,” he explained, saying the area near Mali’s Ouagadou was once a hideout for armed groups.
“This mission of a new kind, in which nearly 1,000 men were involved, made it possible to develop interoperability between the forces involved in this alliance, which has the task of tracking down armed terrorist groups,” he said.