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Mali continues to experience significant Islamist insurgent violence as Malian and international forces struggle to adequately police a plethora of Islamist and non-Islamist armed groups active in the north of the country. The current instability can be traced back to the 2012 coup d’état and subsequent rupture between the country’s north and south (though tensions between the two halves of the country existed long before the coup). In the ensuing political turmoil, Islamist groups were able to take control of the country’s north, prompting an international intervention led by France in January 2013. While French forces, with the assistance of Malian and international troops, successfully regained control of the major Northern towns, large swathes of the north remain unstable and insurgent groups launch frequent attacks against Malian, French, and United Nations forces still present there, as well as against civilian targets in the south. As the Malian government struggles to implement the June 2015 peace accord, a durable peace in the country’s north remains elusive and Islamist activity is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Deadly attacks persist, including the January 2017 suicide bombing in the city of Gao that killed 47 people.1 Furthermore, the October 2017 attack that killed four American soldiers stationed in Niger occurred near the Malian border. The attack was eventually claimed by an Islamic State affiliate group.2 Public trust in the Malian government, meanwhile, continues to erode due to its torture and murder of civilians.3

Level of Islamist Activity: 
Severe
Islamist Activity: 

Mali declared itself an independent nation in 1960. Since that time, Tuaregs (a Berber ethnic group) that live in the north have repeatedly tried to declare their independence from the Malian government. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Tuareg separatist group, was formed in October 2011. MNLA is a secular group, but has allied with Islamist organizations at different points in its history.

Mali’s current struggles with Islamism can be traced back to the 2012 coup d’état that overthrew the country’s democratically elected government. MNLA-led rebellions in the north had restarted early in 2012. Many in the military were frustrated by what they perceived as a lack of support from the government in suppressing these rebellions. The soldiers, called the Green Berets, attacked the presidential palace in Bamako and deposed President Amadou Toumani Touré. 

Upon taking power, the Green Berets established the National Council for the Recovery of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDRE). The group suspended Mali’s constitution and dissolved its institutions, promising to restore civilian rule.4 Within days, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the UN, and much of the international community had condemned the coup, and in some cases ceased operations in Mali.5 ECOWAS suspended Mali from its membership and imposed sanctions against CNRDRE.6

Meanwhile, the coup caused enough chaos to benefit the MNLA’s cause. On April 2, 2012, the MNLA seized several major cities in the north, including Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu.7 The MNLA announced a ceasefire on April 6, claiming that they had enough land to form their own state of Azawad.8 The country was split in two, with Bamako in control in the south and the rebels holding the north. 

The MNLA sought the assistance of Islamist groups in its rebellion. These groups included AQIM, Ansar Dine, and the Movement for Unity & Jihad in West Africa (commonly referred to as MUJAO, the acronym of its French name, Mouvement pour l'unicité et le jihad en Afrique de l'Ouest). In May 2012, the MNLA and Ansar Dine agreed to merge to form an Islamist state.9 However, the union did not last long. Within less than a week, the two groups clashed over the degree to which sharia law would be enforced. Then MUJAO similarly united with the MNLA, and similarly fell out. Thereafter, MUJAO and Ansar Dine worked together to push the MNLA out of Gao in June 2012.10

In early December 2012, representatives of Ansar Dine and the MNLA agreed to a ceasefire with the government.11 However, by early January 2013, Ansar Dine suspended this arrangement, accusing the government of preparing for war.12 The Islamists then began aggressively moving south towards Bamako. By January 10, Islamist rebels attacked and took control of Konna, a town less than 40 miles from Mopti, where the Malian army maintains a strategic base.13

The French government responded by announcing Operation Serval, in which the French government would support Mali in beating back Islamist forces. With French support, the Malian army regained control of Konna on January 11.14 African troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also began deployed to the country.15 French, Malian, and ECOWAS troops quickly retook northern cities and towns in the weeks that followed. However, upon retaking Gao, the French-led forces found themselves conducting counter-insurgency measures, similar to those needed in Afghanistan and Iraq, as the Islamists mounted a counter-attack in February.16 In August 2014, Operation Serval was replaced by Operation Barkhane. With a mandate focused more on counterterrorism, the resulting 3000-strong force is headquartered in N’Djamena, Chad, and operates across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. Operation Barkhane was still active as of mid-2018. 

The Malian government has signed a number of ceasefires with several armed Tuareg separatist groups, including the MNLA. The most recent, known as the Algiers Accord, was signed in June 2015. Among other things, the peace deal included provisions for former separatist fighters to be integrated into the security force in the north, better representation for the north in central government institutions, and the right for the northern region to form local institutions.17 The implementation of the peace agreement has been stalled, most notably due the ongoing insecurity in the northern regions, a product of the numerous Islamist militant groups that did not participate in the peace process. After several postponements, local elections were finally held in November 2016 amid reports of violence and at least one reported kidnapping of a candidate.18 In August 2017, the MNLA and the Platform, a pro-government militia, agreed to a fifteen-day ceasefire and peace talks.19 In September 2017, the two groups signed another cease-fire agreement,20 but discord continues.   

Militant Islamist groups initially did not participate in the peace process, and remain active in the north as well as, increasingly, in the south of the country. While there are a number of distinct Islamist groups, membership between them tends to be fluid. As such, multiple groups tend to credibly claim responsibility for terrorist strikes. Analysts have argued that increased counterterrorism pressure from security forces will encourage further collaboration between Mali’s Islamist groups.21 

Ansar Dine (“Defenders of the Faith”)
Iyad Ag Ghaly formed Ansar Dine (“Defenders of the Faith”) in 2011. Ansar Dine expanded its reach and power in northern Mali throughout 2012. In January 2013, the group was estimated to have around 1,500 fighters.22 As previously noted, the group initially worked with the MNLA to take over the north. However, differing positions over the adoption of sharia law caused the relationship between the two to deteriorate. Ansar Dine took control of Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao in June 2012.23 

As Ansar Dine took control of more and more of northern Mali, the group increasingly pushed a radical interpretation of Islam on Malians. On July 10, 2012, it destroyed two tombs at Timbuktu’s ancient Djingareyber mud mosque, a major tourist attraction, angering the city’s residents and drawing international condemnation.24 The Islamist group banned alcohol, smoking, Friday visits to cemeteries, and watching soccer, and required women to wear veils in public.25 It whipped and beat those who did not adhere to its strict interpretation of sharia law.26

As previously discussed, Ansar Dine formed and broke a ceasefire with the Malian government in late 2012 and early 2013. As the French intervention gained momentum at the end of January 2013, there were reports that members of Ansar Dine had crossed into Darfur, Sudan through Niger and Libya.27

In June 2016, Ag Ghaly released his first video in almost two years, issuing new threats against the West and commending recent attacks against French forces and UN peacekeepers.28 On October 31, 2016, Mahmoud Dicko, the president of Mali’s High Islamic Council, told reporters that he has brokered a truce with Ag Ghaly.29 However, Ansar Dine immediately denied the report, calling the claim “completely baseless.”30

Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO)
MUJAO is a West Africa-based militant Islamist organization that is allied with Ansar Dine and has ties to AQIM.31 The group made its first public statement on December 12, 2011. Soon after its inception, MUJAO reportedly concluded an agreement with both Ansar Dine and AQIM to pursue a common goal of spreading Islamism across the region.32 The group appears to target West Africa more than its compatriots. The group is largely made up of black African Muslims, rather than those of Arab descent, and identifies itself as “an alliance between native Arab, Tuareg and Black African tribes and various muhajirin (“Immigrants,” i.e. foreign jihadists) from North and West Africa.”33 The group appears to fund itself through kidnapping activities.34

Like Ansar Dine, MUJAO initially had a truce with the MNLA as they jointly fought to take control of Mali’s north from Bamako.35 But in June 2012, MUJAO and its ally Ansar Dine pushed the MNLA out of the northern Malian city of Gao.36 While Ansar Dine appeared to have taken control of Timbuktu with AQIM, Gao was held by MUJAO.37 In the advance to Gao, MUJAO reportedly sacked Algeria’s consulate and kidnapped seven Algerian diplomats.38 Once in control, MUJAO imposed a draconian interpretation of sharia law on Malians.39 In August 2013, a significant faction of MUJAO merged with a militant group formerly associated with AQIM to form a new group called Al-Mourabitoun.40

Al-Mourabitoun (“The Sentinels”)
Al-Mourabitoun was formed in August 2013 following a merger between a breakaway segment of AQIM led by Algerian commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar and a faction of MUJAO.41 Belmokhtar’s faction, known as the al-Mulathamun Battalion (“the Masked Battalion,”AMB), had previously been part of AQIM, but split into a separate organization in late 2012 after an ongoing dispute with AQIM’s emir, Abdelmalek Droukdel.42 Belmokhtar became the commander of Al-Mourabitoun, and under his command the group claimed responsibility for the January 2013 attack on the Tiguentourine gas facility near Amenas, Algeria, which resulted in the deaths of 39 civilians. 

The group aims to unite Islamic movements and Muslims across Africa against secular influences, with a particular focus on attacking French interests and French allies across the region.43 However, al-Mourabitoun’s own unity has come into question. In May 2015, Al-Mourabitoun co-founder Adnan Abu Walid al Sahrawi pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and its founder Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in an audiotape that was released to the Al Akhbar new agency.44 Several days later, however, Belmokhtar dismissed the pledge, indicating that al Sahrawi’s decision had not been approved by Al-Mourabitoun’s shura council, a move that seemingly indicated a split in the organization.45 In the weeks following, local Malian media reported clashes between factions loyal to Belmokhtar and those loyal to al Sahrawi.46 Al Sahrawi’s faction continued to launch attacks in the region, including on a military outpost in Burkina Faso near the border with Mali and on a high-security prison in Niger thought to house militants from Nigeria’s Boko Haram and AQIM.47 Following the Radison Blu attack in November 2015, reports indicated that Belmokhtar reunited Al-Mourabitoun with AQIM.48

Al-Mourabitoun has also been involved in several high-profile attacks against foreigners in central and southern Mali, including the August 2015 attack on the Byblos Hotel in Sévaré, which killed thirteen people, five of whom where UN workers;49 the March 2015 attack on the La Terrasse restaurant in the capital city of Bamako, which killed five,50 and the November 2015 attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, in which 170 people were taken hostage and nineteen killed.51 The group has also launched attacks outside of Mali, including collaborating on an attack on the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of neighboring Burkina Faso, in January 2016 and the March 2016 attack on the Grand Bassam beach resort in Côte d’Ivoire. In January 2017, al-Mourabitoun claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing at a military camp in Gao. The attack killed 47 people.52

Macina Liberation Front (FLM)
The Macina Liberation Front emerged in January 2015 and is led by Amadou Koufa, an ethnically Fulani radical Islamic preacher. In the explosion of post-coup Islamist activity in Mali, Koufa rose to prominence after he led a joint AQIM, Ansar Dine, and MUJAO offensive against the town of Konna in early January 2013, the capture of which triggered the beginning of the French intervention in the country.

Notably, the group blends an extremist Islamic ideology with a local ethnic radicalism that is a product of increased insecurity and competition between ethnic groups in central Mali.53 The term “Macina” refers to the 19th century Fulani-led Islamic Macina Empire that stretched across central Mali, and Koufa has proven adept at capitalizing on the sense of victimization among ethnic Fulani in the central region of the country. The group is reported to target its recruiting to young Fulanis by using local radio stations to broadcast Koufa’s Fulani-language sermons, which draw on a narrative of a return to a mythical time when Fulani were the masters of a prosperous Islamic faith in West Africa.54

Membership in the FLM is estimated to be a few hundred fighters, and the group lacks the numbers to conduct more than small-scale attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs).55 The FLM does, however, often collaborate with other Islamist groups to launch high profile attacks on United Nations peacekeepers and civilian targets. The FLM claimed a role in the November 2015 attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako56 and in the July 2016 attack on the Malian military base in Nampala area of the central Segou Region.57 The FLM continues to recruit from within the Fulani pastoral community; local Bambara farmers support the government-supported Dozo militia. The two groups clash frequently, leading to reciprocal revenge killings.58 The FLM also exploits the government’s continual human rights abuses, such as executions and extrajudicial arrests, to curry favor with the Malian population.59

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)
Over time, AQIM has evolved from a local terrorist group seeking to replace Algeria’s government with an Islamic one to an al-Qaeda group preaching global jihad against the West. Formerly known as the Group Salafiste Pour la Predication et Combat (GSPC), AQIM has its roots in the Algerian civil war of the 1990s. In Mali, the group has taken advantage of the country’s sparsely populated northern regions, where the government has a limited reach. Mali’s three northern regions—Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal—contain only 10 percent of the population while accounting for two-thirds of the country’s land.60 As noted by analysts, the group has periodically turned to smuggling and criminality to raise funds, but, at its core, it has remained a highly resilient and pragmatic Islamist insurgency.61

GSPC/AQIM, like many Islamist terrorist groups, finances itself through crime. Prior to its merger with al-Qaeda, the group achieved international notoriety when it ransomed 15 European tourists in Algeria in early 2003.62 It received a reported sum of 5 million Euro.63 In May 2007, AQIM kidnapped its first foreigner since 2003. Between 2007 and 2017, there have been a number of additional, high profile kidnappings that illustrate the group’s continued ability to operate in northern Mali. The kidnappings serve a dual purpose for AQIM; the activity itself drives foreign investment away from the region, while the ransom payments bring AQIM cash needed for weapons and supplies.64 In addition to kidnapping, AQIM also engages in profitable smuggling operations in the Sahel with routes going through northern Mali. 

In 2016, AQIM and its affiliates launched at least 257 attacks in West Africa.65 This dramatic increase in attacks—nearly a 150 percent uptick from 2015—underscores the group’s ability to successfully recalibrate its strategy and tactics in the face of ongoing counterterrorism efforts and competition from other Islamist groups in the region.66  According to the Long War Journal, AQIM affiliates launched 276 attacks in West Africa in 2017.67 This level of activity continues; in April 2018, AQIM claimed an attack that killed a United Nations peacekeeper and wounded seven French soldier, and indicated that the strike was a retaliation against French operations that had killed AQIM members.68 At present, no credible estimates of force strength for AQIM in Mali are available. While AQIM remains loyal to Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the group is facing increasing competition from the Islamic State (ISIS).69 

The Islamic State 
While the Islamic State has historically not demonstrated a significant interest in Mali, the group’s recent losses of territory and power in Iraq and Syria suggest that this may change. In the face of setbacks on the battlefield in the Middle East, the group has broadened its territorial scope and interests, and one potential new sanctuary is the Sahel region of North Africa.70 One attack of particular note to the United States was the October 2017 strike in Niger that killed four U.S. Special Forces soldiers, as well as four Nigierien soldiers. The attack occurred in Tongo, near Niger’s border with Mali.71 An Islamic State affiliate from northwestern Africa claimed responsibility for the attack in January 2018, according to a statement attributed to jihadi leader Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahroui.72 While Sahraoui left al-Qaeda in 2012 and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014, the depth of the connection remains obscure. Indeed, Sahroui’s announcement was issued on a website typically associated with al-Qaeda. Furthermore, the Islamic State’s more official media channels did not promote the claim.73 This discrepancy has added to confusion over how much control the Islamic State actually has over this professed affiliate.74 Nevertheless, the potential for Mali to rise in the group’s interest and strategic planning cannot be ruled out. 

Islamism and Society: 

Mali has a significant Muslim majority, with 94.8 percent of the population adhering to the Islamic faith.75 While the north has experienced a significant uptick in Islamist activity, it is not clear that radical ideology has actually gained a significant foothold across the country. The Islamists, their radical teachings and their imposition of justice have reportedly not been embraced by northerners, many of whom have simply fled into refugee camps in neighboring Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Niger.76

Malian Islam is not typical of that found in other Islamic nations. The country’s practice of the religion incorporates animist traditions from the region, including “absorbing mystical elements [and] ancestor veneration.”77 Mali’s lengthy history figures prominently in the country’s contemporary culture; Malians “regularly invoke Muslim rulers of various pre-colonial states and empires and past Muslim clerics, saints, and miracle-workers from the distant and more recent colonial and post-colonial past.”78 Islam and animism, in other words, have coexisted in Mali for centuries.79

Since Islamists took over the north, several French MPs have received reports that Qatar was financing the MNLA, Ansar Dine, and MUJAO.80 Iran has also attempted to peddle influence in Mali.81 Malian officials, however, have disparaged such efforts. Before his ouster, President Toure commented that: “Mali is a very old Islamic country where tolerance is part of our tradition.”82

When Islamists were in control of the north, they sought to impose their beliefs on the region and purge Mali of religious diversity. There have been several instances of Islamist militants destroying shrines and mausoleums in the north, particularly in Timbuktu, claiming that the veneration of Sufi saints and scholars was sacrilegious. Sixteen of the mausoleums destroyed as part of this effort were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.83 The destruction of these historic shrines was recently ruled a war crime by the International Criminal Court, which sentenced one fighter involved, Ahmad al-Mahdi, to nine years in prison for his participation.84

While the population of the north initially welcomed the French intervention, frustrations have grown as the French and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) peacekeepers continue to struggle to effectively provide security. There has also been discontent among northern populations regarding certain provisions of the 2015 Algiers Accord. In July of 2016, three were killed and dozens wounded when the Malian military open fired on protestors demonstrating against the nomination of former armed militants as local government authorities, as specified by Algiers Accord.85

Armed non-state actors remain a continual problem in Mali, and young people between the ages of 18 and 35 form the largest proportions of their ranks.86 Almost 18 million people live in Mali, and nearly 70 percent of the population is under the age of 24.87 A potential draw to militant groups for young people is a “governance vacuum,” in which most rural communities feel ignored or abandoned by their government, while militant groups are seen as potentially providing greater protection.88 Meanwhile, there are an estimated 140,100 Malian refugees who have been forced to flee the country, while estimates of internally displaced persons put that figure at 51,960.89

Islamism and the State: 

In keeping with the French tradition, religion in Mali “is understood as private and confessional.”90 The Malian constitution, adopted in 1992, maintains the country as a secular state. However, the 1990s saw a dramatic increase in the number of Islamic associations throughout the country, each with varying motivations and religious interpretations.91 The government formed the High Islamic Council (Haut Conseil Islamique) in 2002.92 While religious political parties are banned under the constitution, Mali’s government supports the High Islamic Council as an “official and unique interlocutor of political authorities for all questions relative to the practice of Islam.”93

The Bush administration began the Pan Sahel Initiative in October 2002 to train African nations in counterterrorism.94 In June 2005, the program expanded to include more countries from the region, becoming the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTP).95 The Initiative’s Operation Flintlock provides anti-insurgency training to the armies of the seven participating states, including Mali.96 Operation Flintlock has been reprised on several occasions, including in February 201697 and, most recently, in April 2018.98

In addition to American efforts to bolster their military capabilities, Mali and its neighbors have made efforts to coordinate their counterterrorism activities. Algeria held a conference in March 2010 inviting leaders from Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to build a joint security plan to tackle jihadists.99 Subsequently, Algeria, Mauritania, Niger and Mali established a joint military base in Tamanrasset, southern Algeria, in April 2010.100 Under Operation Barkhane, France has continued its counterterrorism operations and support in the region. In September 2013, in an effort to discourage the growth of radical interpretations of Islam in Mali, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita signed an agreement with the Kingdom of Morocco that would bring 500 Malian imams to Morocco for moderate religious training and make available to Malian students religious scholarships at Moroccan universities.101 Furthermore, Mali’s interim government asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate possible war crimes perpetrated by the Tuareg and Islamist rebels in the north.102 In September 2016, the ICC convicted former fighter Ahmad al-Mahdi of war crimes. 

Overall, the government response to Islamist groups has focused heavily on security solutions and building policing capacity. This has catalyzed two problems. First, heavy-handedness on the part of Malian security forces has tended to exacerbate local grievances and runs the risk of increasing support for Islamist groups. This has already happened to an extent with Mali’s Fulani populations, and groups like FLM have found success recruiting among young Fulani populations disaffected after abuses by Malian security services.103 Nevertheless, these abuses continue, including the deaths in detention of 27 men and the torture of two others in early 2018.104

Second, Mali’s focus on security solutions has come at the expense of addressing local social and economic issues in the north of the country. Unfortunately, despite a close relationship between the Malian government and its international partners, President Keita’s tenure has been hampered by allegations of corruption and nepotism.105 Without improving trust in state institutions, service delivery mechanisms, and government accountability, it will be difficult for the government to effectively protect against the allure of Islamist groups to the young and disenchanted, and these groups will continue to capitalize on local crises and insecurity.106

From March 27 to April 2, 2017, Mali held a Conference of National Understanding, as part of the requirements of the 2015 peace agreement. The conference participants recommended that the Malian government should open negotiations with jihadists, particularly Iyad Ag Ghali (a Tuareg leader associated with al-Qaeda) and Hamadou Kouffa (a Fulani leader also associated with al-Qaeda). The Malian government indicated interest in the proposal initially, but its French allies expressed a lack of enthusiasm with the idea.107 However, some Malians remain interested in such negotiation as a possible pathway to peace, especially as military methods have failed to drive jihadists out of Mali. Furthermore, some feel that the government should accept the recommendation of the Conference as a sign of greater accountability to the Malian people.108 Elections have been postponed repeatedly due to security concerns in years past. A new presidential election will be held on July 29, 2018. Regional elections, meanwhile, have been pushed to the end of 2018.109 Both are likely to be affected by the current state of security in the country, and by the ongoing fight against Islamic extremism. 

 

Citations: 

[1] Angela Dewan, “Mali suicide bombing: Al Qaeda-linked group claims responsibility,” CNN.com, January 19, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/01/19/africa/mali-military-bombing/index.html
[2] Rukmini Callimachi, “ISIS Affiliate Claims October Attack on U.S. Troops in Niger,” The New York Times, January 13, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/13/world/africa/niger-isis-green-berets-attack.html.
[3] “Mali: Deaths, Torture in Army Detention,” Human Rights Watch, April 9, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/09/mali-deaths-torture-army-detention.
[4] Adam Nossiter, “Soldiers Overthrow Mali Government in Setback for Democracy in Africa,” New York Times, March 22, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/23/world/africa/mali-coup-france-calls-for-elections.html?pagewanted=all.
[5] ECOWAS, “ECOWAS Statement on the Disturbances in Bamko, Mali,” March 21, 2012, http://www.ecowas.int/publications/en/statement/mali21032012.pdf; “UN Condemns Political Instability in Mali After Armed Rebellion,” UN News Centre, March 22, 2012, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41604&Cr=Tuareg&Cr1; Corey Flintoff, “Mali’s Coup: Echoes of a Turbulent Past,” National Public Radio, March 23, 2012, http://www.npr.org/2012/03/23/149223151/malis-coup-a-setback-for-a-young-african-democracy
[6] Emergency Mini-Summit of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government on the Situation in Mali (The Economic Community of West African States, March 29, 2012), 19, (http://www.ecowas.int/publications/en/communique_final/mini-sommet/comfinal_mali_2012.pdf.
[7] Neal Conan and Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, “Turmoil in Mali Deepens After Military Coup,” National Public Radio, April 5, 2012, http://www.npr.org/2012/04/05/150072681/a-military-coup-creates-political-crisis-in-mali.
[8] “Mali Rebels Announce Ceasefire,” ABC News, April 6, 2012, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-04-06/mali-rebels-announce-ceasefire/3936824.
[9] “Mali Tuareg and Islamist Rebels Agree on Islamist State,” BBC, May 27, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-18224004?print=true.
[10] “Mali: Islamists Seize Gao from Tuareg Rebels,” BBC, June 27, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-18610618?print=true.
[11] Monica Mark, “Mali Rebel Groups Agree Ceasefire,” Guardian (London), December 5, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/05/malian-rebel-groups-agree-ceasefire.
[12] “Mali Islamist Group 'Suspends' Ceasefire,” VOA News, January 4, 2013, http://www.voanews.com/content/mali-islamist-group-suspends-ceasefire/1577693.html.
[13] Afua Hirsch, “French Troops Arrive in Mali to Stem Rebel Advance,” Guardian (London), January 11, 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/11/france-intervene-mali-conflict.
[14] Afua Hirsch, “French Troops Arrive in Mali to Stem Rebel Advance.”
[15] Christopher Isiguzo and Damilola Oyedele, “Nigeria: Air Force Sends War Planes to Mali Thursday,” ThisDay, January 17, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201301170615.html.
[16] David Lewis, “In Mali Town, Counter-Insurgency Task Ties Down French,” Reuters, February 14, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/14/us-mali-rebels-gao-idUSBRE91D1EV20130214.
[17] “Malian rivals sign peace deal,” Al Jazeera (Doha), June 21, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/06/malian-rivals-sign-peace-deal-150620173301883.html.
[18] Adama Diarra and Souleymane Ag Anara, “Mali’s Local Elections Marred by Boycotts, Kidnapping,” Reuters, November 20, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mali-elections-idUSKBN13F0R8?il=0.
[19] Kaourou Magassa and Oliver Monnier, “Armed Groups in Mali Agree To Truce as Peace Talks Start,” Bloomberg Politics, August 24, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-24/armed-groups-in-mali-agree-to-truce-as-peace-talks-start.
[20] The Associated Press, “Rival Tuareg groups in Mali sign new ceasefire agreement,” Washington’s Top News, September 21, 2017, https://wtop.com/africa/2017/09/rival-tuareg-groups-in-mali-sign-new-cea....
[21] Rida Lyammouri, “Attack Highlights Poor Resources of Malian Army and Underscores Collaboration between Islamist Militants,” IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Monitor 16, iss. 8, September 2016.
[22] “'Lion of the Desert': Ex-Partner of Germany Leads Malian Islamists,” Der Speigel (Hamburg), January 13, 2013, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/leader-of-malian-islamists-once-helped-german-government-a-878724.html.
[23] “'Lion of the Desert': Ex-Partner of Germany Leads Malian Islamists,” Der Speigel.
[24] “Ansar Dine Destroy More Shrines in Mali,” Al Jazeera (Doha), July 10, 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/07/201271012301347496.html.
[25] Michael Lambert and Jason Warner, “Who is Ansar Dine?” CNN, August 14, 2012, http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/14/who-are-ansar-dine/.
[26] Adam Nossiter, “Burkina Faso Official Goes to Islamist-Held Northern Mali in Effort to Avert War,” New York Times, August 7, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/08/world/africa/burkina-faso-official-visits-mali-in-effort-to-avert-war.html?gwh=. 
[27] “Chad Told France That Mali Rebels May Have Entered Sudan – Diplomat,” Sudan Tribune, February 26, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201302270345.html.
[28] Conor Gaffey, “Who is Iyad Ag Ghaly, Mali’s Veteran Jihadi?” Newsweek, June 29, 2016, http://www.newsweek.com/who-iyad-ag-ghaly-malis-veteran-jihadi-475473.
[29] Idriss Fall, “Mal: Insurgent Group Accepts Cease-fire but With Conditions,” Voice of America, October 31, 2016, http://www.voanews.com/a/mali-insurgent-group-ansar-dine-accepts-cease-fire/3573301.html.
[30] “Mali Islamists Still Waging War, Dismiss Ceasefire Report,” Voice of America, November 2, 2016, http://www.voanews.com/a/mali-dicko-ansar-dine/3576634.html.
[31] Nossiter, “Burkina Faso Official Goes to Islamist-Held Northern Mali in Effort to Avert War.”
[32] “Some Things We May Think About MUJWA,” The Moor Next Door, May 30, 2012, http://themoornextdoor.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/somethings-we-think-about-mujwa/.
[33] Andrew McGregor, “Islamist Groups Mount Joint Offensive in Mali,” Jamestown Foundation Militant Leadership Monitor XI, iss. 1, January 10, 2013, https://jamestown.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/TM_011_Issue01_01.pdf
[34] Sanders and Moseley, “A Political, Security and Humanitarian Crisis: Northern Mali.”
[35] “‘Dozens killed’ in Northern Mali Fighting,” Al Jazeera (Doha), June 28, 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/06/201262891738152474.html.
[36] “‘Dozens killed’ in Northern Mali Fighting,” Al Jazeera.
[37] Nossiter, “Burkina Faso Official Goes to Islamist-Held Northern Mali in Effort to Avert War.”
[38] “Some Things We May Think About MUJWA,” The Moor Next Door.
[39] Serge Daniel, “North Mali Residents Ready to Resist Islamist Groups,” American Free Press, August 14, 2012, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jG2uPsDfGOXCBXusjGHvLzlmNvBQ?docId=CNG.5b6400c0bc73c4f95cd82e5991bf5f1a.231.
[40] Bill Roggio, “Al Qaeda Group Led by Belmokhtar, MUJAO Unite to Form Al-Murabitoon,” Long War Journal, August 22, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/08/al_qaeda_groups_lead_by_belmok.php.
[41] Roggio, “Al Qaeda Group Led by Belmokhtar, MUJAO Unite to Form Al-Murabitoon.”
[42] U.S. Department of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2013,” April 2014, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/225886.pdf.
[43] Government of Australia, “Australian National Security: Al-Murabitun,” November 5, 2014, https://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/Al-Murabitun.aspx.
[44] Thomas Joscelyn, “Confusion Surrounds West African Jihadists’ Loyalty to Islamic State,” Long War Journal, May 17, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/05/confusion-surrounds-west-african-jihadists-loyalty-to-islamic-state.php.
[45] “Sahara Islamist Leader Belmokhtar Dismisses Islamic State Pledge: Report,” Reuters, May 17, 2015, https://www.yahoo.com/news/sahara-islamist-leader-belmokhtar-dismisses-islamic-state-pledge-170310550.html?ref=gs.
[46] Thomas Joscelyn and Caleb Weiss, “Islamic State Recognizes Oath of Allegiance from Jihadists in Mali,” Long War Journal, October 31, 2016, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/10/islamic-state-recognizes-oath-of-allegiance-from-jihadists-in-west-africa.php
[47] Conor Gaffey, “Niger Repels Attack on Prison Holding Jihadis from Mali and Nigeria,” Newsweek, October 17, 2016, http://www.newsweek.com/niger-repels-attack-prison-holding-jihadis-mali-and-nigeria-510618.
[48] “Mali Extremists Join with Al-Qaeda-linked North Africa Group,” Associated Press, December 4, 2015, http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/mali-extremists-join-al-qaida-linked-north-africa-group.
[49] “Mali Hotel Siege: Several Killed in Sevare, Four UN Workers Saved,” BBC, August 9, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-33833363.
[50] “Al-Qaeda-Linked Group Claims Mali Restaurant Attack,” Al Jazeera (Doha), March 9, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/03/al-qaeda-linked-group-claims-mali-restaurant-attack-150309072613760.html.
[51] “Two Arrested in Connection with Bamako Hotel Attack,” Guardian (London), November 27, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/27/two-arrested-in-connection-with-bamako-hotel-attack.
[52] “Mali suicide bombing: Al Qaeda-linked group claims responsibility.”
[53] Michael Shurkin, “How to Defeat a New Boko Haram In Mali,” Newsweek, September 7, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/how-defeat-new-boko-haram-mali-369430.
[54] “Mali Islamists Armed Group Push Fighting Beyond Conflict-hit North,” Telegraph (London), September 23, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/mali/11884570/Mali-Islamists-armed-group-push-fighting-beyond-conflict-hit-north.html; Yvan Guichaua and Dougoukolo Alpha Oumar Ba-Konaré, “Central Mali Gripped by a Dangerous Brew of Jihad, Revolt and Self-Defence,” The Conversation, November 13, 2016, https://theconversation.com/central-mali-gripped-by-a-dangerous-brew-of-jihad-revolt-and-self-defence-67668
[55] Rida Lyammouri, “Attack Highlights Poor Resources of Malian Army and Underscores Collaboration between Islamist Militants,” IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Monitor 16, iss. 8, September 2016.
[56] “Mali: Une Seconde Revendication de L’attaque de L'hôtel Radisson,” Radio France Internationale Afrique, November 23, 2015, http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20151123-mali-revendication-attaque-hotel-radisson-front-liberation-macina-bamako?ns_campaign=reseaux_sociaux&ns_source=twitter&ns_mchannel=social&ns_linkname=editorial&aef_campaign_ref=partage_aef&aef_campaign_date=2015-11-23&dlvrit=1448817.
[57] Lyammouri, “Attack Highlights Poor Resources of Malian Army and Underscores Collaboration between Islamist Militants.”
[58] Amanda Sperber, “What Can Save Mali?” IRIN, May 29, 2017, https://www.irinnews.org/special-report/2017/05/29/what-can-save-mali.
[59] Sperber, “What Can Save Mali?”
[60] William B. Farrell and Carla M. Komich, “USAID/DCHA/CMM Assessment: Northern Mali,” Management Systems International, June 17, 2004.
[61] 
J. Peter Pham, “The Dangerous ‘Pragmatism’ of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” Journal of Middle East and Africa, (2011) 2: 15-29. 
[62] 
Stephen Harmon, “From GSPC to AQIM: The Evolution of an Algerian Islamist Terrorist Group into an Al-Qa’ida Affiliate and its Implications for the Sahara-Sahel Region,” Concerned African Scholars Bulletin no. 85, Spring 2010, 17, http://concernedafricascholars.org/docs/bulletin85harmon.pdf.
[63] Raffi Khatchadourian, “Pursuing Terrorists in the Great Desert,” The Village Voice, January 12, 2006, http://www.villagevoice.com/2006-01-17/news/pursuing-terrorists-in-the-great-desert/. 
[64] Michael Petrou, “Al-Qaeda in North Africa,” Maclean's, May 11, 2009. 
[65] Caleb Weiss, “Al Qaeda linked to more than 250 West African attacks in 2016,” Long War Journal, January 8, 2017, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/01/over-250-al-qaeda-linked-....
[66] Anoar Boukhars, “How West Africa Became Fertile Ground for AQIM and ISIS,” World Politics Review, November 29, 2016, http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/20556/how-west-africa-became-fertile-ground-for-aqim-and-isis
[67] 
Caleb Weiss, “Al Qaeda maintains operational tempo in West Africa in 2017,” Long War Journal, January 5, 2018, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/01/al-qaeda-maintains-operational-tempo-in-west-africa-in-2017.php
[68] Associate Press, “Al-Qaida claims deadly attack on French, UN forces in Mali,” The Washington Post, April 20, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/al-qaida-claims-deadly-attack-on-french-un-forces-in-mali/2018/04/20/7412b6ee-44af-11e8-b2dc-b0a403e4720a_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.25d240b79d77
[69] Sergei Boeke, “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Terrorism, Insurgency, or Organized Crime?” Small Wars & Insurgencies 27, no. 5, 2016, 914-936, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09592318.2016.1208280.
[70] 
Kersten Knipp, “‘Islamic State’ seeks new foothold in Africa,’” Deutsch Wells, January 2, 2018, http://www.dw.com/en/islamic-state-seeks-new-foothold-in-africa/a-41977922
[71] “Islamic State affiliate claims deadly attack on U.S. troops in Niger,” Reuters, January 13, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-niger-security/islamic-state-affiliate-claims-deadly-attack-on-u-s-troops-in-niger-idUSKBN1F20L3. 

[72] Callimachi, “ISIS Affiliate Claims October Attack on U.S. Troops in Niger.”

[73] Callimachi, “ISIS Affiliate Claims October Attack on U.S. Troops in Niger.”

[74] Callimachi, “ISIS Affiliate Claims October Attack on U.S. Troops in Niger.”
[75] “Mali,” CIA World Factbook, January 2017, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ml.html. 
[76]
Kate Thomas, “In Limbo: Malian Refugees in Burkina Faso,” Refugees Deeply, April 20, 2016, https://www.newsdeeply.com/refugees/community/2016/04/20/in-limbo-malian....
[77] Lisa Anderson, “Democracy, Islam share a home in Mali,” Chicago Tribune, December 15, 2004, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2004-12-15/news/0412150328_1_mali-islamic-cinq.
[78] Soares, “Islam in Mali in the Neoliberal Era,” 212.
[79] Robert Pringle, “Democratization in Mali: Putting History To Work,” United States Institute of Peace Peaceworks no. 58, October 2006, 27, http://www.usip.org/resources/democratization-mali-putting-history-work. 
[80] Ségolène Allemandou, “Is Qatar Fuelling the Crisis in North Mali?” France 24, January 23, 2013, http://www.france24.com/en/20130121-qatar-mali-france-ansar-dine-mnla-al-qaeda-sunni-islam-doha. 
[81] Willy Stern, “Moderate Islam, African-Style,” Weekly Standard, August 4, 2008, http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/015/369mhred.asp.
[82] Anderson, “Democracy, Islam Share a Home in Mali.” 
[83] Joshua Hammer, “The Race to Save Mali’s Priceless Artifacts,” Smithsonian Magazine, January 2014, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/Race-Save-Mali-Artifacts-180947965/.
[84] 
“ICC: Mali Fighter Jailed for Destroying Timbuktu Sites,” Al Jazeera (Doha), September 27, 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/icc-mali-fighter-jailed-destroying-timbuktu-sites-160927093507739.html. 
[85] Kamissa Camara, “Violent Protests Have Erupted in Mali. Here’s What is Driving Them,” Washington Post, August 15, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/08/15/whats-the-role-for-malis-youth-after-the-2015-peace-accord-not-enough-protesters-say/?utm_term=.f9fe8717fb22. 
[86] Anthony Morland, “Why Some Malians Join Armed Groups,” IRIN News, January 25, 2018, http://www.irinnews.org/analysis/2018/01/25/why-some-malians-join-armed-groups.
[87] “Mali,” CIA World Factbook, May 2018, https://www.cia.gov/library/Publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ml.html. 

[88]  Morland, “Why Some Malians Join Armed Groups.”
[89] “Destabilization of Mali,” Global Conflict Tracker, May 3, 2018, https://www.cfr.org/interactives/global-conflict-tracker#!/conflict/destabilization-of-mali. 
[90] 
Soares, “Islam in Mali in the Neoliberal Era,” 214.
[91] Nicolas Colombant, “Mali’s Muslims Steer Back to Spiritual Roots,” Christian Science Monitor, February 26, 2002, http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0226/p08s02-woaf.html. 
[92] Colombant, “Mali’s Muslims Steer Back to Spiritual Roots.”
[93] Soares, “Islam in Mali in the Neoliberal Era,” 215.
[94] Harmon, “From GSPC to AQIM,” 22. 
[95] Harmon, “From GSPC to AQIM,” 23. 

 [96] Harmon, “From GSPC to AQIM,” 23.

 [97] Emanuelle Landais,“US led Flintlock counter-terrorism exercises end in Senegal, ” Deutsche Welle, February 29, 2016, http://www.dw.com/en/us-led-flintlock-counter-terrorism-exercises-end-in-senegal/a-19083235. 

 [98] U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, “AFRICOM Announces Flintlock 2018,” Press Release, march 9, 2018, http://www.africom.mil/media-room/pressrelease/30484/africom-announces-flintlock-2018
[99] “Al-Qaida Digs in to Resist Region’s Armies,” United Press International, July 6, 2010, http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2010/07/06/Al-Qaida-digs-in-to-resist-regions-armies/UPI-14121278441085/.
[100] “Brief: Saharan Countries' Cooperation Against AQIM,” Stratfor, April 21, 2010, http://www.stratfor.com/node/160466/analysis/20100421_brief_saharan_countries_cooperation_against_aqim. 
[101] 
Vish Sakthivel, “Morocco’s Move in Mali,” Foreign Affairs, January 14, 2014, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/africa/2014-01-14/moroccos-move-mali. 
[102] “Mali Asks International Court to Investigate Alleged War Crimes,” Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2012, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/07/mali-international-court-war-crimes.html. 
[103] Boukhars, “How West Africa Became Fertile Ground for AQIM and ISIS.” 
[104] 
“Mali” Deaths, Torture in Army Detention,” Human Rights Watch, April 9, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/09/mali-deaths-torture-army-detention
[105] Grégory Chauzal, “A Snapshot of Mali Three Years After the 2012 Crisis,” Netherlands Institute of International Relations, June 8, 2015, https://www.clingendael.nl/publication/snapshot-mali-three-years-after-2012-crisis. 
[106] Anoar Boukhars, “How West Africa Became Fertile Ground for AQIM and ISIS,” World Politics Review, November 29, 2016, http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/20556/how-west-africa-became-fertile-ground-for-aqim-and-isis.
[107] 
Alex Thurston, “Speaking with Jihadists: Mali Weighs Its Options,” The Global Observatory, May 25, 2017, https://theglobalobservatory.org/2017/05/jihadism-mali-al-qaeda-france-keita/.
[108] Thurston, “Speaking with Jihadists.”
[109] “Date set for Mali presidential elections,” eNCA, April 28, 2018, https://www.enca.com/africa/date-set-for-mali-presidential-elections