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Jihadists strike two towns in Mali, killing at least 4

Jihadists in Mali have attacked two towns in the last 24 hours, leaving at least four dead in the restive African country. Suspected al Qaeda militants struck the United Nation's base in Kidal in the north with a complex assault. Two suicide car combs and a rocket barrage left at least one Chadian peacekeeper dead.

The second attack occurred yesterday in the central Malian town of Teninkou and left two Malian soldiers and one civilian dead, according to Reuters. The assault began when around 20 gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on Malian soldiers manning a checkpoint near the entrance of the city. The firefight lasted for about three hours before the jihadists withdrew. While most reports state that three people were killed, other sources have claimed that casualties were much higher.

No group has yet to take responsibility for the attack but al Qaeda-linked forces are suspected to be the perpetrators. On Jan. 8, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda's official branch in North Africa, assaulted a military base in Teninkou. No one was injured in the attack, but it was said to have been a probing operation to test the response of the Malian military. That incident followed two other attacks in central Mali that occurred less than a week apart.

On Jan. 7, AQIM attacked the nearby town of Djoura before quickly retreating, leaving one civilian dead. And on Jan. 5, AQIM assaulted a Malian military base in the town of Nampala close to the Mauritanian border, killing seven troops. Jihadists in Mali and neighboring states have increased their operations despite an ongoing French-led counterterrorism mission. The al Qaeda groups in Mali appear to have regrouped and re-equipped in recent months.

According to Malijet, AQIM is pursuing a new strategy for central Mali. The strategy includes using the Wagadou Forest as a base of operations to conduct offensives on nearby towns. The jihadist group used the forest in this manner before being forced out by Malian and Mauritanian forces in 2011.

Other jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda have also conducted attacks recently in northern Mali. Al Murabitoon, which was formed from the merger between the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Mokhtar Belmokhtar's al Mulathameen Brigade, has conducted several recent assaults near Gao and Ansongo. Ansar Dine, the local wing of AQIM, is thought to have been behind the Jan. 10 attack near Kidal that left seven Senegalese peacekeepers wounded.

[Source: By Caleb Weiss, Threat Matrix, The Long War Journal, 17Jan15]

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