On January 17, 2012, a rebellion began in Mali when ethnic Tuareg fighters attacked a Malian army garrison in the eastern town of Menaka near the border with Niger.[1] In the conflict’s early weeks, the ethno-nationalist rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA)[2] cooperated and sometimes collaborated with Islamist fighters of Ansar Eddine for as long as the divergent movements had a common enemy in the Malian state.[3] On March 22, disgruntled Malian soldiers upset about their lack of support staged a coup d’état, overthrowing the democratically elected government of President Amadou Toumani Touré.

By April 1, all Malian security forces had evacuated the three northern regions of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. They relocated to the garrisons of Sévaré, Ségou, and as far south as Bamako.[4] In response, Ansar Eddine began to aggressively assert itself and allow jihadists from regional Islamist organizations to establish themselves in cities under its rudimentary administration.[5] Locals from Gao also reported seeing members of Nigeria’s Boko Haram and other Salafi-jihadis who they claimed spoke none of the regional languages and attempted to use English as a lingua franca in Gao.[6]

As a result, the northern two-thirds of Mali have become a safe haven for Ansar Eddine, al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO)[7]—three Salafi-jihadi groups. The temporary alliance between the MNLA and the Salafi-jihadi forces has now turned into outright rivalry. The MNLA has been pushed out of all of northern Mali’s cities and towns by Ansar Eddine and MUJAO, retreating into the wilderness.[8] On July 15, the faltering MNLA announced that it was formally withdrawing its demand for an independent state, with a Mauritania-based rebel official stating: “Independence has been our line since the start of the conflict but we are taking on board the view of the international community to resolve this crisis.”[9] The MNLA has been forced to pragmatically reconstitute its demands in light of its eviction by Ansar Eddine and MUJAO.

This article highlights several of the core issues at stake both for West Africa and the wider world in northern Mali’s vast breakaway region. First, it analyzes the long-held separatist roots of the present conflict. Second, it examines Ansar Eddine’s narrow Islamist worldview in context of the events unfolding in Timbuktu. Finally, it looks into the near decade-long U.S. military relationship with Mali. The article draws on interviews with Malians of varying ethnicities from Gao and Timbuktu Regions conducted by the author during a two-week span in Bamako, the Malian capital, and the northerly front line town of Sévaré in May and June 2012.

In 1958, Tuareg elders penned a letter to Paris petitioning French  administrators for an independent Tuareg state from what was then a constituent part of Soudan Français (French Sudan). Mali’s colonial rulers wrestled with the question of whether to include Saharan Tuareg and Arab populations into a separate political entity or bind them together with ethnic sub-Saharan Africans in the southern regions.[10] The term Azawad traditionally referred to the vast plain north of the Niger Bend between Timbuktu and the town of Bourem northwest of Gao, but gradually expanded to mean the entirety of northern Mali by assorted rebel outfits fighting there in the first half of the 1990s.[11]

The sparse deserts of northern Mali suffered a series of rebellions by ethnic-Tuareg[12] fighters that began not long after the country was granted independence from France in 1960. Before the present uprising, Malian Tuaregs rebelled against the state in 1962-1964, 1990-1996 and 2006-2009. The root causes of these armed uprisings were economic, racial, linguistic, or some mix of the three depending on the particular perspective of those asked.[13] These insurgencies were put down by ham-fisted counterinsurgency operations and peace negotiations. The 2012 rebellion coupled with encroaching Salafist radicalism, however, has cleaved Mali’s state and society between north and south in a way the previous three outbreaks did not come close to doing.

The core of the present crisis in northern Mali is formed from a decades-old separatist sentiment of the Kel Tamasheq (the endonym used by Tuaregs and other Tamasheq-language speakers) that stems from economic inequality, neglectful development of the north by southern elites and perceptions of ethnic differences. While external factors in the conflict such as Libyan arms and the influx of notorious Algerian jihadist actors have brought the conflict much international attention, it is also important to note that highly localized economic and ecological factors helped the fighting come to fruition. The once vital tourism industry has entirely collapsed while the region is concomitantly suffering a food crisis exacerbated by drought conditions.[14]

In the 2012 rebellion, the MNLA broadened the geography of Azawad even further by including a swath of northwestern Mopti Region up until the town of Douentza. On April 5, Moussa ag Assarid, a Paris-based spokesman of the MNLA, was quoted saying: “Since the day before yesterday when our units reached Douentza which we consider to be the frontier of the Azawad.”[15]

From the conflict’s outset, the MNLA’s goal was the swift formal political partition of Mali. Ansar Eddine, in its role as a Salafi-jihadi organization, has expressed no genuine interest in the politics of post-colonial state building. Rather, its desired near-term objective is the implementation of Shari`a (Islamic law) throughout Mali.

The two groups fumbled through nearly two months of power sharing in Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu that culminated in the declaration of the “Islamic State of Azawad” on May 26.[16] Sounding as if they were trying to coopt each other’s agenda, they issued a joint statement proclaiming: “We are all in favor of the independence of Azawad…we all accept Islam as the religion” with Ansar Eddine’s Sanda Ould Bouamama adding, “Allah has triumphed.”[17] This awkward attempt at a fusion of such disparate ideologies was a contradiction in terms, unraveling just days later.

In an interview in Kidal following the fallout with the MNLA in Gao, Ansar Eddine’s quixotic leader Iyad ag Ghaly framed his goal in strangely modest terms: “We are not asking for much: just the application of Shari`a law in the northern and southern regions [of Mali]. We are Malians and we are against the division of Mali.”[18]

Although much has been made of the Tuareg rebels’ return from Libya via northern Niger following the collapse of the Qadhafi regime, this circumstance more helped to reinvigorate a stalemated conflict than was itself the raison d’être for the present war. Although Tuareg fighters returned from Libya with fresh stocks of small-arms, ammunition, fighting vehicles, and anti-aircraft weaponry, they also accessed weapons stockpiled from previous outbreaks of political violence and raided arms depots abandoned by retreating Malian troops. A press report described the Malian army weapons acquired by AQIM in Gao as a “vast cache.”[19]

There is evidence that the third source of weapons—those that rebels either never surrendered in previous bouts of secessionism or gained in the years leading up to the 2012 war—also likely forms a significant amount of arms in the current conflict. Ensconced in the rugged Tigharghar Massif due south of the Algerian border, Tuareg rebels then led by Iyad ag Ghaly and the late militant leader Ibrahim ag Bahanga began as a movement called the Alliance for Democracy and Change (ADC) on May 23, 2006, when it mounted attacks on army garrisons in Kidal and Menaka in which they acquired a large trove of weapons.[20]

Although on July 15 the MNLA publicly recanted its separatist stance in light of territorial losses to Islamist fighters, it will not diminish Tuareg separatism over the long-term. Indeed, the renouncement of the MNLA’s secessionist goal issued by Ibrahim ag Assaleh, a member of the MNLA’s negotiating team who traveled to Burkina Faso for mediation talks, was immediately contradicted by its Paris-based spokesman, Moussa ag Assarid.[21]

The Role of Ansar Eddine
Ansar Eddine, an armed Islamist movement of the Salafi-jihadi strain, is viewed as an outfit whose mercurial decision-making processes seem to regularly contradict their previous public statements. Ansar Eddine was formed toward the end of 2011 by a veteran 1990s Tuareg rebel leader named Iyad ag Ghaly. Ghaly had been a mainstream figure in Tuareg rebel politics for many years and liaised with the U.S. Embassy in Bamako on several occasions including a May 2007 meeting with the then U.S. ambassador in his capacity as leader of the ADC.[22] In the meeting, Ghaly described violent confrontations between his ADC fighters and AQIM in October 2006.

For Ghaly to then suddenly emerge as a die-hard Salafist raises a number of questions, such as precisely when and where he was radicalized.[23] Regardless of the reason for his radicalization, the man once described as “soft-spoken and reserved” in leaked U.S. Embassy cables from 2007 now calls for “holy war.”[24]

Once all vestiges of Malian authority evaporated, animosity between ethno-nationalist rebels and Salafi-jihadi fighters seemed inevitable. At the outset of the conflict, the MNLA stated that one of its goals was to rid Azawad of AQIM figures while its then tacit allies in Ansar Eddine were simultaneously closely aligned with the al-Qa`ida franchise.[25] Following a half-hearted attempt at uniting for the purposes of power sharing in late May, it would not be long before the AQIM-allied Ansar Eddine—estimated to have only a few hundred fighters—emerged as the more well endowed war fighting group.[26]

A key point of tension between the MNLA and Ansar Eddine has been the visible presence of AQIM leaders and fighters in the areas under Ansar Eddine rule. AQIM’s southern amir, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, was reportedly seen in Gao.[27] Belmokhtar purportedly issued a statement on the events surrounding the MNLA’s departure from the city.[28] He was reported killed by the MNLA in the battle of Gao that occurred between the MNLA and combined Ansar Eddine and MUJAO forces on June 27. It was later reported that Belmokhtar was still alive, and was basing himself in Gao after the MNLA’s ouster.[29] Abdelhamid Abu Zeid, another of AQIM’s southern amirs, has been spotted in Timbuktu.[30] Ahmed Ould Cherif, the head of the ethnic Arab National Front of Liberation of Azawad (FNLA) militia, was quoted as saying that Abu Zeid personally ordered his men out of the city to avoid conflict with AQIM.[31]

By June 28, Ansar Eddine boasted that they had evicted the MNLA in totality from northern Mali’s three key urban centers of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.[32] As Ansar Eddine tightened their grip over Timbuktu, they accelerated vandalism of its Sufi holy places classified by UNESCO as protected World Heritage Sites. This destruction attracted arguably more attention than the flight of several hundred thousand refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Ansar Eddine’s emboldened spokesman for Timbuktu, Sanda Ould Bouamama, justified the Salafist destruction of Sufi sites on theological grounds. Bouamama stated: “What is UNESCO? We don’t care about the words of any entity because God is one without partners. All UNESCO’s calls are just polytheism. We are Muslims and we don’t revere any shrines or idols.”[33] The Salafists of Ansar Eddine seek to rid Mali of what they deem to be shirk (polytheism). They consider themselves the righteous upholders of tawhid (the oneness of God) whose inherent duty is to eradicate shirk in a bid to create a more virtuous Islamic society based up the divine principle of tawhid. Revered graves and shrines and ceremonies like Mawlid al-Nabi (the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed) are considered in violation of the Salafists’ strict interpretation of tawhid.[34]

Viewing itself as a new local standard-bearer in regional Sunni orthodoxy, the movement believes it is justified in leveling Timbuktu’s historic sites to rubble. Ansar Eddine member Mohamed Kasse described their reasoning behind the demolitions: “We found a man lying at the foot of a mausoleum. He was praying. That is why we broke the door and took it off of its hinges. We think he was stupid praying at the tomb of a human being. No matter who it is, you can only pray to God.”[35] When the International Criminal Court indicated that damage in Timbuktu may represent a war crime, Ansar Eddine’s ever defiant Oumar Ould Hamaha said: “The only tribunal we recognize is the divine court of Sharia.”[36] From this rigid stance, it appears less likely that a negotiated settlement will be initiated before an armed intervention in the north.

Mali and the International Response
The most vocal concerns about the crisis in northern Mali have arisen from a few of its geographically contiguous neighbors, Niger in particular. The United Nations and Western powers, primarily France and the United States, have not acted forcefully while the crisis continues along a highly negative trend line. The UN Security Council’s 15 members voted unanimously on Resolution 2056 (2012), which will put economic sanctions on individual militant leaders under the rubric of the UN’s al-Qa`ida Sanctions Committee under Resolution 1267 (1999).[37]

Despite the less than enthusiastic response from Malian state actors, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders have been attempting to cobble together a force comprised of 3,270 proposed troops from Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal that could aid Malian regular forces in retaking the lost northern regions. In reaction, MUJAO threatened Senegal with reprisal attacks.[38] Senegal’s newly elected President Macky Sall then suddenly withdrew from the proposed coalition, citing prior regional peacekeeping commitments that had already stretched the Senegalese military too thin.[39]

One of the biggest questions with regard to Mali’s northern rebels and now entrenched jihadists has been the potential role or lack thereof of Algeria. The government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has insisted on its noninterventionist stance as the crisis along its southern border has only escalated over the course of its six-month duration. The immediate reaction by Algiers to the outbreak of conflict was to immediately withdraw military advisers it had working with Malian troops and to suspend all military assistance.[40] The Bouteflika government stated it sought a solely political solution to the crisis. After winning its hard-fought independence from France in 1962, Algeria became a bulwark of the non-aligned movement in Africa, viewing itself as a politically protective buffer state between the global north and south.[41] In this light, it is wary of a Libya-style military intervention in any form along its borders imposed by France or other Western powers.[42] Despite hosting the Tamanrasset joint military command designed to coordinate cross border efforts on AQIM in southern Algeria, Algiers has not so far demonstrated an appetite to intervene in what it views as internal Malian affairs.[43]

The Post-9/11 Role of the U.S. Military in Mali
The U.S. military’s engagement in Mali has been evolving for nearly a decade. After 9/11, the greater Sahel and Sahara regions were highlighted as lightly or undergoverned spaces that were vulnerable to transnational Salafi-jihadi terrorist organizations. In October 2002, the Pan-Sahel Initiative was launched by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by the Pentagon to train and equip the militaries of Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad. The goal of the initiative was to bolster border security along the Sahel’s porous post-colonial frontiers and to boost interoperability among the regional militaries.[44] The poorly funded, low-priority program was not begun in earnest until the following year when it was officially commenced in Mali by U.S. European Command (EUCOM).[45] The Pan-Sahel Initiative concluded in 2004 and was then absorbed into the much larger in scope Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative,[46] which included the four aforementioned countries as well as Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria and Senegal.

For years after these programs began, critics who specialize in the Sahel and Maghreb regions were skeptical of the U.S. military’s entrance into France’s historic zone of influence. Yale political anthropologist Mike McGovern stated: “the overall estimation of this author is that the threat of violent jihadi activity in the Mauritanian, Malian, Nigerian and Chadian Sahel is very small though not inexistent.”[47] AQIM is regularly reported to be an organization in decline, particularly in Algeria where the movement was borne out of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

Mali was commonly believed to not be overly susceptible to Salafi-jihadi movements because of the prevalence of Sufi tariqa (brotherhoods or orders). Mali’s past Tuareg rebellions erupted from long-held local grievances as the MNLA still continues to portray the battle lines of the present conflict. Ansar Eddine is also a local Malian movement but it is attempting to frame its struggle in purely Islamist terms mostly irrespective of Sahelian state boundaries after it dislodged its partner turned peer competitor, the MNLA. While AQIM may be on the defensive in the Kabylie and Algeria’s urban centers, it has grown in the Sahel economically if not in numbers of recruits.[48]

The collapse of the Tunisian and Libyan security states has resulted in the expansion of AQIM’s maneuverability in the Sahel and Sahara.[49] It has also allowed AQIM to link itself to outfits such as Ansar Eddine, MUJAO,[50] and possibly Boko Haram. Despite years of U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts in Mali, the region faces its biggest security challenge since the Algerian civil war of the 1990s. As the Algerian state has applied pressure, AQIM has become more adept at exploiting the Sahel’s weak security infrastructure and its southern amirs have become emboldened.[51] The Sahel has transformed from a rear logistical base to the locus of jihadist activity in North and West Africa.

Despite the suspension of the U.S. train and equip program in the wake of the March coup, AFRICOM still maintained Special Operations troops in the country. Their presence was revealed when three soldiers died after careening off Martyr’s Bridge into the River Niger alongside three Moroccan women while driving from Bamako’s Badalabougou neighborhood toward the Centre Ville in April.[52]

The ECOWAS talks involving Ansar Eddine, the MNLA and Malian interim authorities in Ouagadougou mediated by Burkinabe President Blaise Compaoré have led to no tangible effect. ECOWAS has been unable to get Malian political or military leaders to green light its proposed intervention force. Former colonial power France has not demonstrated a willingness to get formally involved in the conflict as it has done in the past with several of its former colonies when confronted by coups and rebels. AFRICOM intimated that it could aid Malian or ECOWAS troops with logistics or intelligence gathering, but has not indicated that U.S. troops may play an advisory role on the ground despite nearly a decade of counterterrorism involvement in Mali. Mali’s interim president still has not returned from medical exile in Paris following the brutal May 21 beating he withstood in the presidential Koulouba Palace in Bamako. Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra continues his diplomacy in regional capitals, but the Islamist hold in the north is consolidating in the interim.

Songhai Malians from Timbuktu and Gao interviewed by this author described AQIM as firmly in the top echelon of non-state actors roaming northern Mali. While no single group can claim to control or even hold all of this vast territory, locals say that the AQIM’s GSPC veterans are the commonality between the different jihadist movements jockeying for influence across the region.[53] They believe that AQIM is what connects Ansar Eddine, MUJAO, Boko Haram, and other unaffiliated jihadists who have managed to cross into Mali and what pushes them further against the comparatively secular MNLA rebels. Add to this mix Arabs arming themselves under the banner of the FNLA and black Songhais and Peuls reconstituting the Ganda Koy/Ganda Iso movement, and the narrative of the struggle for the north of Mali becomes that much more complex. A well-planned military intervention in any form would require taking these increasingly fissiparous ethnic, tribal, and religious dynamics into account.

The Salafi-jihadi agenda has so far been limited to the regions of Mali under control of the Islamists. They have focused on eliminating the presence of their MNLA rivals from population centers, consolidating territorial control and implementing their interpretation of Shari`a. On June 29, MUJAO issued a statement claiming it was behind a suicide attack far north of Mali on a gendarmerie building in Ouargla, Algeria.[54] Ansar Eddine and its allies AQIM and MUJAO have continually tweaked their agenda to suit the circumstances of the day. For now, the fight to advance their Salafi-jihadi objectives is primarily contained in northern Mali’s angular borders, yet there is no firm indication this shaky status quo will hold.

Derek Henry Flood is an independent analyst working in MENA, Central and South Asia. Mr. Flood has written for Asia Times Online, CNN, Christian Science Monitor and Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst among others. Previously he served as editor of The Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

[1] Adama Diarra and Tiemoko Diallo, “Tuareg Fighters Attack Town in Northern Mali,” Reuters, January 17, 2012.

[2] Its official name, in French, is Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad.

[3] Ansar Eddine has been variously transliterated as Ansar Dine, Ançar Dine, Ansar al-Din, and Ansar ul-Din. Iyad ag Ghaly’s new movement should not be confused or conflated with the 30-year-old Islamic movement in southern Mali called Ansar Dine led by Cherif Ousmane Madani Haidara. See “Mise au point de Chérif Ousmane Madani Haïdara sur la confusion autour du nom Ançardine: Nous n’avons aucun lien avec les djihadistes d’Iyad Aghaly,” L’Independant, April 5, 2012.

[4] Personal observations, Bamako, Sévaré and Ségou, Mali, May 26, June 3-4, 2012.

[5] AQIM and its predecessor, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat), have had a presence in difficult to reach zones of northern Mali for a number of years. The stark difference today is that AQIM is operating openly and with impunity in the three regional capitals of Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu as never before. See Andre Le Sage, Africa’s Irregular Security Threats: Challenges for U.S. Engagement (Washington, D.C.: Institute for National Strategic Studies, 2010), p. 4.

[6] Personal interviews, locals from Gao, Bamako, Mali, May 29, 2012.

[7] In French, it is Le Mouvement pour l’Unicité et le Jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest.

[8]  “Islamists Push Tuareg Rebels from Last N. Mali Bastion,” Agence France-Presse, July 12, 2012.

[9] Mark John and Tiemoko Diallo, “Mali Rebels Say Have Dropped Separatist Goal,” Reuters, July 15, 2012.

[10]  “Mali’s Tuareg Rebels Declare Independence,” Associated Press, April 6, 2012.

[11] James McDougall and Judith Scheele, Saharan Frontiers: Space and Mobility in Northwest Africa (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2012), p. 145.

[12] The Tuareg (singular endonym Imuhagh) are an ethnic Berber (singular endonym Amazigh) group who are one of the indigenous peoples of North Africa. They are an often marginalized nomadic pastoralist group who feel sidelined by the Arab and black demographic majorities in the countries they inhabit and view their culture as being perpetually under threat.

[13] Personal interviews, locals who fled Timbuktu, Sévaré, Mali, June 4, 2012.

[14] Personal observations, Mopti Region, Mali, June 3-5, 2012; Baz Lecocq and Nadia Belalimat, “The Tuareg: Between Armed Uprising and Drought,” African Arguments, February 28, 2012.

[15] Rukmini Callimachi, “Mali Rebels Declare Cease-Fire After Seizing North,” Associated Press, April 5, 2012.

[16] James Butty, “Mali Says Rebel Tomb Desecration a War Crime,” Voice of America, July 2, 2012.

[17]  “Mali Rebel Groups Unite to Create New Islamist State,” Agence France-Presse, May 27, 2012.

[18] Adama Diarra, “Mali Islamist Leader Rejects Independence,” Reuters, June 16, 2012.

[19] “Al-Qaeda Branch Seizes Key Mali Arms Depot as Crisis Deepens,” Agence France-Presse, May 27, 2012.

[20] Abdoulaye Tamboura, “Tuareg Crises in Niger and Mali,” Institut français des relations internationals, January 2008, pp. 4-5.

[21] Sébastien Badibanga, “Nous n’avons pas renoncé à notre revendication de l’indépendance de l’Azawad,” Afrik.com, July 15, 2012.

[22] “Spotlight on Leader of Islamist Group in Mali,” Associated Press, April 27, 2012.

[23] It has been suggested that Ghaly became much more interested in stringent variants of Islam after South Asian missionaries from the global Deobandi-inspired movement Tablighi Jama`at became active in Ghaly’s home Kidal Region. Ghaly reportedly became a Tablighi Jama`at devotee along with other members of his Ifoghas clan at some point during the 1990s. For Ghaly to make the doctrinal leap from the revolutionary yet non-violent Tablighi Jama`at to outright Salafi-jihadism would have been a sizeable one. See Baz Lecocq and Paul Schrijver, “The War on Terror in a Haze of Dust: Potholes and Pitfalls on the Saharan Front,” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 25:1 (2007): pp. 148-150. It also has been speculated that he was radicalized during his stint as a diplomat at the Malian consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from 2008-2010 when he was ejected by Riyadh for being in contact with Sunni extremists. Aside from Ghaly himself, Saudi and other reformist Wahhabi proselytizers from the Gulf have been active in mosque construction and other forms of religious development in the Malian Sahel for many years trying to appeal to Malians in general. Some sources cite Ghaly’s presence in Jeddah as beginning in 2007. See “Spotlight on Leader of Islamist Group in Mali”; author’s personal observations, Mali, June 3, 2012. Still other sources suggest that Ghaly cloaking himself in the mantle of Salafism is merely another ruse for power by a long-time savvy political opportunist. Ghaly supposedly made a failed bid to be the leader of the MNLA and to be chief of his Ifoghas Tuareg clan which considers itself the ruling elite of the area. After being rebuffed in this scenario, he then founded Ansar Eddine and set forth a Salafi-jihadi religio-political agenda at odds with historic Tuareg irredentism. Just as importantly, Ghaly’s Salafism goes against the current of Mali’s widely adhered to Tijaniyya, Hamawiyya, and Qadiriyya Sufi tariqas that cross both geographic and ethnic boundaries. For details, see Steve Metcalf, “Iyad ag Ghaly – Mali’s Islamist Leader,” BBC Monitoring, July 17, 2012; Brian J. Peterson, “Mali ‘Islamisation’ Tackled: The Other Ansar Dine, Popular Islam, And Religious Tolerance,” African Arguments, April 25, 2012. The final idea proposed in regard to Iyad ag Ghaly’s radicalization deals with his role as an interlocutor during hostage negotiations between President Amadou Toumani Touré’s central government and the GSPC (which later became AQIM) where he was exposed to that group’s Salafist ideology in the process. For details, see Boris Thiolay, “Mali: Iyad ag Ghali, le rebelle touareg devenu djihadiste,” L’Express, April 12, 2012.

[24] Serge Daniel, “Mali Rebel Iyad ag Ghaly: Inscrutable Master of the Desert,” Agence France-Presse, April 5, 2012.

[25] Moussa ag Assarid, “Ma lutte pour la liberté et la digneté de mon people se poursuit,” Le Blog Officiel de Moussa ag Assarid, July 14, 2012. This source is the blog of the MNLA’s Paris-based international spokesman.

[26] In contrast to the MNLA, it is believed Ansar Eddine has access to financial largesse from the vast ransoms AQIM has received from several European governments in return for the release of their hostages held in the Sahara. AQIM and MUJAO currently hold nine Western hostages. Ansar Eddine may also be funding itself through AQIM’s well established drug trafficking routes and the looting of banks in the territories it conquered in late March 2012. See “Mali: Rebels and their Cause,” IRIN, April 23, 2012; Thomas Fessy, “Mali Unites Against the Ansar Dine Islamists in Timbuktu,” BBC, July 17, 2012.

[27] Michelle Faul, “Mali Attracts Islamist Fighters in Void after Coup,” Associated Press, April 6, 2012.

[28] “Bellawar [Belmokhtar] raconte sa version des affrontements de Gao et appelle ‘au calme et à la concertation,’” Agence Nouakchott d’Information, July 1, 2012.

[29] “Mali: Al-Qaida cordonnes les différents groupes Islamistes du nord,” Agence France-Presse, July 20, 2012.

[30] Echorouk News, April 26, 2012.

[31] “New Mali Militia Leaves Timbuktu to ‘Avoid Bloodbath,’” Agence France-Presse, April 28, 2012.

[32] Tiemoko Diallo and Adama Diarra, “Islamists Declare Full Control of Mali’s North,” Reuters, June 28, 2012.

[33] Jemal Oumar, “Locals, UNESCO Condemn Destruction of Timbuktu Mosque,” Magharebia, July 4, 2012.

[34] Terje Østebø, Localising Salafism: Religious Change Among Oromo Muslims in Bale, Ethiopia (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2011), p. 159.

[35] “Ansar Dine Fighters Destroy Timbuktu Shrines,” al-Jazira, July 1, 2012.

[36] Ron Depasquale, “UN Council Threatens Mali Fighters with Sanctions,” Associated Press, July 5, 2012.

[37] UNSC Resolution 1267 (1999) later became Resolution 1989 (2011) when the Taliban and al-Qa`ida were decoupled from the original sanctions stemming from the 1999 resolution. See “Security Council Calls for ‘Road Map’ for Restoration of Constitutional Order,” United Nations,  July 5, 2012.

[38] Bakari Gueye, “Senegal Faces al-Qaeda Threat,” Magharebia, June 26, 2012.

[39] Tamba Jean-Matthew, “Senegal Changes Mind on Sending Soldiers to Mali,” Africa Review, July 11, 2012.

[40] “L’Algérie décide de geler son aide militaire au Mali,” El Khabar, January 28, 2012.

[41] Robert Malley, The Call From Algeria: Third Worldism, Revolution, and the Turn to Islam (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996), pp. 144-145.

[42] Abdelkader Abderrrahmane, “Deep Read: Malian Tinderbox – A Dangerous Puzzle,” Mail & Guardian, July 9, 2012.

[43] In April 2010, Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger created the Le Comité d’état-major opérationnel conjoint (Committee of Joint Chiefs, CEMOC) to jointly combat AQIM. See “Al-Qaeda Offshoot Claims Algeria Attack,” Agence France-Presse, March 3, 2012.

[44] James J.F. Forest and Matthew V. Sousa, Oil and Terrorism in the New Gulf: Framing U.S. Energy and Security Policies for the Gulf of Guinea (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006), p. 166.

[45] Alex Belida, “US Counterterrorism Training for W. Africa Gets Under Way,” Voice of America, November 14, 2003.

[46] The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative was later changed to Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership in 2007.

[47] Mike McGovern, Securing Africa: Post-9/11 Discourses on Terrorism (Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2010), p. 81.

[48] Paul Schemm, “Officials: Feared al-Qaida Offshoot Neutralized,” Associated Press, July 9, 2012.

[49] Nizar Maqni, “Tunisia: A New Home for Jihadi-Salafis?” al-Akhbar, March 3, 2012; Christian Lowe and Lamine Chikhi, “Algeria Says Kidnapped Governor Freed on Libyan Soil,” Reuters, January 17, 2012.

[50] MUJAO emerged in 2011 of uncertain and oft debated origins. It says its aim is to expand jihad in West Africa, although many of its attacks have been in Algeria and the Maghreb beginning with a kidnapping of three European aid workers in October 2011 from a Polisario Front refugee camp in Tindouf, Algeria. Its center of gravity is in Gao near the frontier with Burkina Faso which acts as a human conduit for its recruitment from littoral states along the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic coast. Gao is also equidistant from the border with Niger, which provides MUJAO with aspiring jihadists as well. MUJAO has been described as an outgrowth of AQIM’s expansion in the Sahel or a dissident movement maintaining important ideological differences; other sources suggest it is a competitor to AQIM. Residents who fled Gao stated that the ethnic and national makeup of foreign jihadists in their city differed from those groups in Timbuktu due to Gao’s proximity to the aforementioned borderlands. MUJAO is believed to be led by a Mauritanian, Hamada Ould Mohamed Kheirou, who is described as a key member of the group’s shura council. See Dimitri Kaboré, “Libération des otages du Mujao: escale à Ouagadougou,” Fasozine, July 19, 2012; “Algérie: un groupe islamiste ouest-africain revendique l’attentat de Tamanrasset,” Agence France-Presse, March 3, 2012; personal interviews, internally displaced Gao residents, Bamako, Mali, May 29, 2012; Dario Cristiani, “West Africa’s MOJWA Militants – Competition for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb?” Terrorism Monitor 10:7 (2012); “Radical Islamist Group Threatens France,” Agence France-Presse, January 3, 2012; “Al-Akhbar News Agency interview with Hamada Mohamed Kheirou, a commander in the al-Tawhid w’al-Jihad Movement,” Ansar al-Mujahidin Forum, May 1, 2012.

[51]  Henry Wilkinson, West African Studies Global Security Risks and West Africa: Development Challenges (Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2012), p. 24.

[52]  “Three U.S. Military Service Members Killed in Auto Accident,” U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs, April 20, 2012.

[53] Personal interviews, locals from Timbuktu, Sévaré, Mali, June 4, 2012.

[54] “Le groupe terroriste Mujao revendique l’attentat contre la gendarmerie à Ouargla,” Tout Sur l’Algerie, June 30, 2012.

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