What gets lost in the media frenzy over recent Islamic terrorist attacks in Mali is why Islamic terrorists even bother with such an out-of-the way place. It’s all about money, which even Islamic terrorists need to survive. Mali is a key component of a smuggling route from central Africa to Europe. The 2012 Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali triggered an international peacekeeping response in 2013 that made moving the drugs north more difficult and, for a time, nearly impossible. The Islamic terrorists operating in northern Mali must maintain access so they can enter and move through Algeria, to the coast and thence to Europe. Doing this is a major source of income for Islamic terrorist groups who will also use this network to move weapons and Islamic terrorists. Normally bribes would work to safely get through but the Islamic terrorism angle in northern Mali and Algeria means that fewer military or police officials will accept the money and the smugglers have to rely on skill and luck or firepower to get through. That often isn’t enough, as can be seen by the constant clashes on the Algerian border and throughout northern Mali.
December 4, 2015: Lithuania, one of the more recent NATO members, has answered the French call for fellow NATO members to help with counter-terrorism efforts and is sending 40 troops to join the French in Mali. The Lithuanian troops will arrive by the end of the month. Several other NATO members have agreed to send troops to Mali.
November 28, 2015: In the north (near Kidal) Ansar Dine Islamic terrorists fired several unguided rockets at a peacekeeper base. The pre-dawn attack left two peacekeepers and a contractor dead while twenty others were wounded.
November 26, 2015: In the capital Mali commandos arrested two suspects in the November 20th attack. No further information was released but the investigation continues with some intensity.
November 25, 2015: Germany announced it will send 650 troops to Mali to help the 1,500 French soldiers and commandos already there. The German troops, unlike the French ones there, would not be primarily for combat but would instead take care of support and reconnaissance tasks, freeing French troops from some of those duties.
November 20, 2015: An al Qaeda attack on a Mali hotel popular with foreigners left 20 dead, six of them Russians and three of them Chinese businessmen. Also dead were two Belgians, an American, an Israeli and a Senegalese. Five hotel staff died, including two of the three armed guards on duty at the time. The Russians were flight crew of a Russian cargo airline. Many Russian and Ukrainian cargo airlines have been operating in Africa since the 1990s, carrying out legal and illegal activities. American and French commandos arrived in time to help recapture the hotel.
The AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) second-in-command in Libya, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, took credit for the attack. Belmokhtar also took credit for a similar attack on another Mali hotel in August. Belmokhtar was also behind the January 2013 natural gas facility attack in southern Algeria that got 37 workers killed. He has also survived several attempts to kill him and has a reputation for being elusive. He survived such attacks in 2013, 2014 and early 2015. Since 2013 his al Mourabitoun faction has been using bases in southern Libya and has been seen operating in Mali and Niger. The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for information that would lead to the death or capture of Belmokhtar. Al Mourabitoun and AQIM continues to survive in Libya because of the chaos there. AQIM and other Islamic terrorist groups control a lot of the drug smuggling from Central Africa to the north. That cash buys access as well as weapons and useful helpers. AQIM has long been the most active terror group in the north but is now showing up in the south, mainly to deal with threats to the lucrative drug smuggling operations. For over a decade the main product being moved north was cocaine from South America, but now opium and heroin from Afghanistan is showing up. There is also a lot of locally produced cannabis and hashish that is also sold locally and in North Africa. AQIM has come to dominate the drug smuggling because of their ruthlessness. To deal with AQIM and their drug smuggling, an international counter-terrorism operation in Sahel (the semi-desert area just below the Sahara, mainly Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso) was created after 2013. Led by France and the United States and working closely with local forces the pressure has forced Islamic terror groups to concentrate more on raising money and avoiding detection and destruction. While some purist Islamic terrorists disagree with this approach, most Islamic terrorists understand that without cash their numbers would be a lot fewer and there would be fewer weapons and other essential items (like explosives for bombs) available. The Islamic terrorists appear to have got their drug smuggling operations and budget problems under control because more attacks are being organized, paid for and carried out in Mali.
A new Islamic terror group in Mali, the FLM (Macina Liberation Front) also took credit for the hotel attack but it is unclear if this is true. FLM openly identifies with the Fulani (Macina are the local branch of the Fulani) tribe. There are some twenty million Fulani living in the Sahel and some of those in northern Nigeria have become involved in Islamic terrorism via the local Islamic terror group Boko Haram. There are over two million Fulani in Mali and FLM became active in early 2015 and has claimed responsibility for several attacks since. It started out with calls for Fulani people to live according to strict Islamic rules. That in turn led to violence against tribal and village leaders who opposed this. That escalated to attacks on businesses and government facilities. FLM is composed mostly of young Fulani men and is associated with Ansar Dine (which is largely Tuareg and funded by smuggling profits). Although most Malians are Moslem, few want anything to do with Islamic terrorism and Boko Haram is seen as a major mistake and not welcome at all in Mali. But the Fulani have always seen themselves as a people apart, an attitude common with the nomadic peoples of the Sahel. The Fulani believe they originally migrated from North Africa and the Middle East. Fulai have lighter skin, thinner lips and straighter hair than other black Africans in sub-Saharan Africa and are Moslem as well in a region where most of the locals are Christian or follow ancient local religions. Fulani have also been involved with smuggling for a long time, in large part because many are still nomadic and the Fulani don’t really believe in borders.
November 12, 2015: In the north (just across the Algerian border) Algerian troops, acting on tips from locals, arrested four suspected Islamic terrorists (they were armed, not acting like smugglers and trying to sneak across the border) and seized a large cache of ammunition in two separate incidents.