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Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claims 2 attacks in Mali

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda's official branch in North Africa, has claimed two recent attacks on UN forces in Mali. The two attacks occurred in the last week and targeted UN peacekeeping forces near the city of Timbuktu.

The Mauritanian news agency Al Akhbar, which regularly reports statements from Saharan jihadists, reported that AQIM's Sahara branch claimed the two attacks in a phone call to the agency. According to a translation by SITE Intelligence Group, the spokesman for AQIM said that the group "confirms its responsibility for the rocket attack on the base of international forces in northern Mali on 25 May." The attack was reportedly on the UN's base in the town of Ber, just east of Timbuktu. Al Akhbar said that the group fired more than a dozen rockets into the camp, but no causalities were reported.

The second attack was an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on a UN convoy near Timbuktu. The Mauritanian news agency has reported that the commander of the international forces, Dane Michael Lollesgaard, and the head of the international police forces, Djiboutian Awale Abdounasir, were in the convoy. The two were unharmed, but three Burkinabe peacekeepers were wounded in the attack. The al Qaeda group claimed to have killed the three peacekeepers, but other reporting has stated they were left injured.

The claim of responsibility from AQIM comes after conflicting reports from Al Akhbar. The news agency initially reported that Al Murabitoon, another jihadist group operating in Mali, claimed the attacks yesterday. However, the reporting today contradicts these reports. Al Akhbar has apologized for mixing up the claims.

Al Murabitoon, or least a part of the group, recently switched allegiance from al Qaeda to the Islamic State in a statement from Adnan Abu Walid al Sahrawi, a former spokesman for the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and the leader of the group. Veteran al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, another commander within Al Murabitoon, quickly denied that he and his group defected. Al Murabitoon was formed in 2013 when MUJAO, an AQIM offshoot, and Belmokhtar's Al Mulathameen Brigade joined forces. Soon after Sahrawi's message was released, it became clear that he was speaking on behalf of either MUJAO, or a part of MUJAO, and not Al Murabitoon as a whole.

Al Qaeda's claim of responsibility for the attacks comes after French forces killed four jihadists, including two al Qaeda leaders, in a recent special forces raid in northern Mali. The French Ministry of Defense (MoD) said that its forces killed Hamada Ag Hama, who also went by Abdul Karim al Tuareg, the leader of AQIM's Katibat al Ansar. The second target was Ibrahim Ag Inawalen, a leader of Ansar Dine, which has been described as the local wing of al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda continues to operate in Mali despite a French-led counterterrorism mission in the region. The jihadist group and its many affiliates in Mali retain the ability to mount rocket, mortar, and IED attacks on UN and French forces. Thirty-five UN peacekeepers have been killed in Mali since 2013, making the country the most dangerous UN mission in the world.

[Source: By Caleb Weiss, The Long War Journal, NJ, 01Jun15]

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