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AQIM claims killing Malian soldiers near Timbuktu

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda's official branch in North Africa, has claimed yesterday's attack on Malian soldiers near the city of Timbuktu in northern Mali. The attack, which occurred on an army outpost in the town of Gourma-Rharouss, left around 10 soldiers dead and two vehicles burned before the jihadists withdrew, according to the Associated Press.

AQIM claimed the attack in a phone call to the Mauritanian news agency Al Akhbar. According to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, AQIM said that its forces "killed nine Malian soldiers and wounded many others." Additionally, the spokesman said that AQIM burned "four vehicles" and took "as spoils some of the equipment" from the Malian army. The spokesman identified himself as Abu al Darda'a al Shinqiti, Al Akhbar said.

AFP has reported today that the Malian government says the attack was on an outpost of the Malian national guard. The government also said that 11 soldiers were killed and one other wounded, adding to the confusion of the total number of casualties.

AQIM has been behind several similar attacks in the region.

In early July, the UN's mission in Mali (MINUSMA) announced that six of its peacekeepers were killed after their convoy was attacked near the city of Goundam, which is just west of Timbuktu. At least five others are said to have been injured. AQIM claimed responsibility for the ambush on the convoy.

On May 28, AQIM killed three Burkinabe peacekeepers traveling in a UN convoy, also near Timbuktu. In September 2014, AQIM took responsibility for several attacks on UN forces near Timbuktu. In Ber, east of Timbuktu, a suicide bomber killed two Burkinabe peacekeepers last August. Additionally, AQIM claimed an attack on MINUSMA convoys near Goundam and Timbuktu in June 2014. And an ambush near the city in January, which killed three Malian soldiers, is thought to have been perpetrated by AQIM.

Attacks in central and southern Mali

The recent assault near Timbuktu comes just days after two Malian soldiers were killed and five others wounded when their convoy was ambushed by suspected al Qaeda gunmen near the Mauritanian border. No group has yet to claim this ambush, but al Qaeda-linked militants are suspected. Many jihadist groups operate in central Mali, including AQIM, Ansar Dine, and the Macina Liberation Movement, which is likely a Fulani front for Ansar Dine.

On June 28, several Ansar Dine gunmen entered the town of Nara, just 19 miles from the Mauritanian border, storming several government buildings and assaulting the local Malian Army camp. The incident left 12 people dead, including two Malian soldiers, one civilian, and nine jihadists.

Additionally, Ansar Dine stormed, and briefly held, the small Malian village of Fakola, just miles away from the border with Ivory Coast. The attack, which caused no reported causalities, was the second in less than a month near the border with Ivory Coast. The group also claimed attacking a police station in the town of Misseni, also near Ivory Coast, on June 10.

Ansar Dine is part of al Qaeda's network in Mali. The jihadist group was formed in 2011 and throughout 2012 it worked with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and Tuareg separatist groups to take over Mali's north. A confidential letter written by AQIM emir Abdelmalek Droukdel that was found after the liberation of northern Mali stated that AQIM fighters should hide their activities under the banner of Ansar Dine. A leader of Ansar Dine was also recently killed alongside the emir (leader) of AQIM's Katibat al Ansar in a French special forces raid in northern Mali.

Al Qaeda continues to operate in Mali despite a French-led counterterrorism mission in the region. The jihadist group and its many affiliates in the country retain the ability to mount rocket, mortar, and IED attacks on UN and French forces. At least 50 UN peacekeepers have been killed in Mali since 2013, making it the most dangerous UN mission in the world.

[Source: By Caleb Weiss, The Long War Journal, NJ, 04Aug15]

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