Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is a Sunni Islamic extremist group with its headquarters in northern Algeria. The group operates mainly in Algeria and the Sahel region of northern Mali. From its bases in northern Mali, the AQIM also conducts regular attacks in Mauritania with some forays into Niger.
In December 2015, the AQIM linked up with its former offshoot, Al-Mourabitoun, to carry out attacks throughout the Sahel region. On January 15, 2016, the AQIM militants attacked the Splendid Hotel and Cappuccino Café in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso killing 30 civilians and wounding more than 56. On the same day, the AQIM simultaneously executed two attacks in the northern part of the country. Twenty AQIM gunmen stormed a village near the town of Tin Akoff, close to Mali border. Additionally, an Australian couple was kidnapped by suspected AQIM jihadists near the Burkina Faso town of Baraboule, also near the Malian border.
On March 13, 2016, the AQIM gunmen opened fire at a beach resort in Grand-Bassam, a coastal town located 25 miles east of Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire. This was the first ever Al-Qaeda attack in the country which left 19 people dead, including 16 civilians and three Ivorian soldiers. Among the killed were foreign citizens from France, Germany, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Cameroon.
The next major AQIM attack was carried out in Mount Sammama area of Kasserine Governorate, Tunisia on August 29, 2016. Three soldiers were killed and seven wounded in the attack. The Uqba bin Nafi Battalion, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) branch in Tunisia, claimed responsibility for the attacks. In November 2016, the AQIM militants attacked airports in the cities of Timbuktu and Gao in Northern Mali with an explosives-laden truck and rockets.
In March 2017, the AQIM’s Sahel-based “emirate” and Al Murabitoun announced a merger with Ansar al Dine and another Malian-led Islamist insurgent group, the Macina Liberation Front (MLF) form Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM). Iyad Ag Ghaly, who previously led Ansar Dine, proclaimed himself as the leader of the new group. Ag Ghaly renewed his allegiance to Abdelmalek Droukdel, Emir of the AQIM; Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda leader; and Taliban leader, Mullâ Hibatullâh. On March 14, Droukdel endorsed this alliance and called “all jihadist groups to follow the example … and to unite”, under the banner of Al-Qaeda. On March 19, Al-Qaeda Central issued an official statement congratulating the new group.
The AQIM, under its new name, the JNIM, carried its first attack on March 5, 2017, which claimed the lives of 11 Malian soldiers in Boulikessi, in Central Mali. The second JNIM attack occurred on March 29, in the same region killing three members of Mali security forces. In the months of July and August 2019, the JNIM claimed responsibility for several attacks on the French-U.N. military base in Tessalit, Mali.
The UN Peacekeeping Mission in Mali became the primary target of the JNIM. It claimed responsibility for an IED attack on to road between Aguelhok and Tessalit, Mali that occurred on October 26 and claimed the lives of three soldiers. The JNIM also claimed responsibility for two separate attacks near Indelimane and Douentza, Mali on November 27 which killed four UN soldiers and a Malian soldier.
The terror activities of the JNIM carried forth in 2018 and now the group expanded its targets beyond the Malian Army and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The first major JNIM terror attacks of 2018 took place simultaneously on March 2, 2018 on the army headquarters and heavily-guarded French Embassy in the Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. According to a videotaped message released by the JNIM, the dual attacks were in retaliation for the killing of one of its leaders in a recent raid by French troops. On April 14, 2018, four JNIM suicide bombers attacked the Timbuktu Airport using vehicles disguised as the U.N. and Malian military vehicles. In the attack, one UN peacekeeper and at least 15 attackers were killed.
In July 2018, Mali went to poll for the Presidential elections. On the polling day, militants attacked polling stations and burnt ballot boxes in several towns in northern and central Mali. Local officials accused the JNIM affiliate Al-Mourabitoun for the violence. The JNIM leader Iyad Ag Ghaly dubbed the elections as a mirage. He remarked, “These elections are nothing other than the pursuit of a mirage and our peoples will reap nothing but illusions, as they are used to doing”.
The AQIM’s Katiba Uqba ibn Nafi claimed responsibility for an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on a group of patrolling Tunisian soldiers in the Mount Chaambi area of Kasserine on October 3, 2019. The blast killed at least one Tunisian soldier, while wounding five others. The claim of responsibility was released via AQIM’s Ifriqiyah Muslimah Telegram page.
On January 20, 2019, the AQIM gunmen killed at least ten United Nations peacekeepers from Chad in an attack on a base in Aguelhok in northern Mali. The AQIM said that the attack was “in reaction” to the visit to Chad by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On August 30, 2019, a soldier was injured in an attack in Tongomayel, around 35 km northeast of Diomsogui, near Soum province capital Djib in Burkina Faso. In an August 31 statement, the JNIM said its fighters carried out the Tongomayel attack, claiming they captured vehicles, weapons and ammunition and later blew up the barracks. One JNIM fighter was injured in the attack, the statement said. The JNIM also released images showing a wide range of weapons, ammunition, mobile phones, uniform items and other equipment that the group said were captured during the Tongomayel attack.
On January 26, 2020, the JNIM launched an assault on Sokalo military camp near the border with Mauritania. The attack which began at around 6 a.m. left “20 dead and five wounded,” the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) said, adding that 60 personnel survived. There were “four dead on the enemy’s side.”
The JNIM launched one of the deadliest attacks on March 19, 2020 attacking Malian Army positions in the locality of Tarkint, in the Gao region. The death toll was heavy in the ranks of the Malian armed forces. The assailants’ assessment was not specified.