There have been about a hundred terrorism (Islamic or tribal) related deaths so far in 2017. It’s not always clear which incidents are about Islamic terrorism and which are about clan or tribal feuds or simply banditry. Even with that there is more violence this year and Islamic terrorists are the main cause. This is a trend as Islamic terrorist violence was up nearly 50 percent (to 257 clashes) in 2016 for Mali and its neighbors Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Niger. Yet the violence does not appear to be escalating rapidly. In part that is because the Islamic terror groups are generally unpopular. So far in 2017 the incidence of Islamic terrorist violence is about the same in these countries. The local Islamic terror groups have responded by forming JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems). In part this is a reaction to the growing threat from ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) which is hostile to everyone who is not ISIL and will attack or recruit from the JNIM members AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Ansar Dine, FLM (Macina Liberation Front), and al Mourabitoun.
A major reason for the formation of JNIM was the ability of experienced al Qaeda media experts to help the African coalition set up and sustain an effective and robust (resistant to attack) media operation. Al Qaeda has a large following among educated (media and Internet savvy) young Moslems in the West. Local JNIM groups have access to the Internet and know that al Qaeda and ISIL have been successful in exploiting local and international media. So although some JNIM members have had bad relationships with al Qaeda in the past they are all willing to give unity a chance. There is also the desperation angle because the French led counter-terrorism campaign is also quite effective and has access to international allies and assets. For JNIM it was really a matter of unify or die.
The side-effects of more JNIM activity may look good in the Internet but are bad news to the locals, especially when it comes to education. The Islamic terrorist groups are particularly hostile to education (other than Islamic religious indoctrination and basic literacy). So far this year JNIM operations against schools have deprived over 150,000 children of education. The parents are not happy with this and many are as angry at the government for not dealing with the problem as they are at the Islamic terrorists who are the problem. The government was never known for efficiency or honesty and the politicians and government workers they hire have a hard time giving up their corrupt (and lucrative) ways.
In central Mali (near the junction of the Niger and Bani rivers) violence between Peul (Fulani) and Bambara tribesmen has gotten worse in 2017 and the tribes are angry at the government for agreeing that this is terrible and then doing nothing. One of the worst incidents was in February when some Bambara attacked a Peul village and killed at least 30 people and wounded many more. More than 500 villagers fled their homes to avoid the violence. That violence has continued and so far this year has forced over 10,000 people from their homes. This tribal feuding has been going on for years but got worse since 2015 when the Peul became widely known as a source of recruits for Islamic terrorist groups and for generally supporting JNIM. The more numerous Bambara (who tend to be pro-government) live north of the Niger and are about a third of the Mali population. The Fulani (who tend to be more rebellious) are largely from south of the Niger. This is not just a Mali problem as Nigeria complains that armed Fulani herders from Mali have showed up in northeast Nigeria and joined local Islamic terrorist groups.
The neighbors are alarmed at how the Islamic terrorist attitudes are spreading. The best example is how the oldest Islamic terror group in Mali (Ansar Dine) quietly helped create an increasingly active branch in Burkina Faso called Ansarul Islam. Ansar Dine began in the north near Timbuktu (because many of its leaders and members came from the area). Ansar Dine was unique in that it was the only Islamic terrorist group from Mali and was formed in 2012 by Tuareg Islamic radicals who were formerly secular rebels. Ansarul Islam came along in 2015, composed largely of Burkina Faso natives and was not really active (as Islamic terrorists) until 2016. From the beginning Ansar Dine saw itself as the only Malian group in the region and many Malians considered foreign Islamic terrorists (like al Qaeda) a bunch of gangsters, dependent on its relationship with drug gangs (al Qaeda moves the drugs north to the Mediterranean coast) and kidnappers (who hold Europeans for multi-million dollar ransoms). All this cash gave al Qaeda a lot of power, both to buy weapons and hire locals. After France chased most Islamic terrorists out of the north in 2013 Ansar Dine became the main AQIM representative in Mali because it was not considered foreign and thus able to survive among kinsmen. This was noted by Islamic radicals in neighboring Burkina Faso and this eventually led to Ansarul Islam. These two groups often share bases and other resources on both sides of the border. For this reason there have been several major counter-terror operations in that border region this year.
UN peacekeeping operations in Mali has suffered highest casualty rate of all UN peacekeeping missions. UN peacekeepers in Mali suffered 26 dead during 2016, the highest number of any UN peacekeeping operation and 90 percent of the UN peacekeeper deaths in 2016, even though the Mali force comprises less than 15 percent of all UN peacekeepers. The Mali peacekeepers have been in this situation for three years in a row. So far 116 peacekeepers (mostly UN, but some French) have died in Mali since they arrived in 2013. This was the result of 72 violent incidents. This is the highest casualty rate of all current UN peacekeeping operations.
May 7, 2017: In the north (outside Gao) Islamic terrorists attacked an army base by first disabling a communications tower to delay calls for reinforcements. Then a suicide care bomb was used against the main entrance followed by several gunmen who attacked people inside the camp. Seven soldiers died and about 30 were wounded or missing. The Islamic terrorists loaded three trucks with weapons, ammunition and equipment and fled.
May 3, 2017: In the north (near Timbuktu) Islamic terrorists fired six rockets into a peacekeeper camp killing one peacekeeper and wounding eight others.
May 2, 2017: In central Mali (Segou) ten soldiers were killed and nine wounded when their vehicle ran over a mine, apparently placed by Islamic terrorists, and the survivors were fired on by nearby gunmen.
April 29, 2017: In the north (southwest of Gao near the Burkina Faso border) French troops led a multiday operation that killed or captured twenty Islamic terrorists using airstrikes and ground forces.
April 28, 2017: Down south parliament approved extending the state of emergency another six months. The state of emergency has been in force since November 2015 and makes it illegal for crowds to assemble and demonstrations to take place without permission. The security forces can ignore some legal procedures when making arrests and holding people in custody. The state of emergency was first enacted, for ten days at a time, after the November 2015 terror attack but later extensions were longer. Before 2015 a previous state of emergency ended in July 2013.
April 21, 2017: Intelligence indicates that the February 8 kidnapping of catholic nun Gloria Cecilia Argoti may have been a case of mistaken identity. She was taken by local men who have since been arrested. But the captive was sold to, or taken by Fulani Islamic terrorists and may have been moved to neighboring Burkina Faso to evade the intense hunt for her. The kidnapping occurred in the south (300 kilometers east of the capital near the Burkina Faso border) when four armed men kidnapped a Catholic nun (from Colombia) who provided health care from a clinic in a parish compound. At first it was feared the kidnappers were Islamic terrorists, who prefer to attack non-Moslems (especially clergy) and kidnap foreigners. There has not yet been a ransom demand and may not be one involving cash because no one (family, Catholic Church, foreign government) is willing to pay a ransom (which just encourages more kidnappings). Instead the JNIM group that holds her will probably try to get a swap (for a jailed Islamic terrorist) deal.
April 20, 2017: In the north (Timbuktu) local Tuareg groups settled their differences with the government and allowed officials from the south to re-establish government operations. Since early March angry local militiamen have surrounded government buildings and prevented southern officials from reestablishing themselves in the area. The militias insist that should not happen until everyone agrees to the 2015 peace deal. The rest of the north settled this in February but the Tuareg around Timbuktu took longer to convince.
April 10, 2017: A combined force of 1,300 French, Malian and Burkina Faso troops completed a two week sweep of the border region between Mali and Burkina Faso. Some weapons and equipment were found but the Islamic terrorists normally resident largely moved out. Apparently a lot of useful information was obtained for use in later counter-terror operations.
April 8, 2017: In the north (270 kilometers west of Timbuktu) pro-government Tuareg militia were attacked by Islamic terrorists. Four of the militiamen were killed as well as a village chief. The militia casualties occur several times a month in the north, plus violence related to clan disputes.