JNIM: Coalition Of Terrorists Intensifying Attacks In The Sahel

JNIM, Al-Qaeda's West African affiliate, has been blamed for inflaming tensions, carrying out attacks, raping women, and kidnappings in parts of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

Terrorists from Jama’atu Nusratul Islam Wal Muslimin (JNIM), a fusion of terrorist organisations operating in the Sahel on Tuesday, Sept. 14 attacked Malian army positions in Mahou, Koutiala region. 

An unknown number of soldiers were reportedly killed, others were injured while the terrorists seized military equipment during the attack. 

The attack came just two days after some terrorists ambushed a Malian army convoy near Manidjé “Kolongo” on Sunday, Sept. 12, killing five soldiers and destroying military vehicles. Three of the terrorists were also killed. 

Although the terrorist merger’s main operational theatre is Mali, the Sahel’s epicentre of Salafi-Jihadi violence, the JNIM has also carried out attacks in Niger Republic and Burkina Faso, targeting military and self-defense civilian organisations. 

Mali has been engulfed in turmoil since the outbreak of independence with jihadist rebellions in the north since 2012, despite international support and intervention by UN, France, and other African forces. Thousands of people, many of them civilians, have died. 

The violence has also spread from the north to the country’s centre, which has become a focal point, to Burkina Faso and Niger, where attacks are recorded often. In Burkina Faso, the JNIM terrorists attacked security forces between Donkou and Dagale villages on Saturday, Sept. 11.

Terrorists destroyed two vehicles, including an Armed Personnel Carrier (APC). There was also an unspecified number of casualties. 

Photo: JNIM fighters after a recent attack on an army position in Burkina Faso.

On Thursday, Sept. 9, the terrorists targeted a government site containing road-building equipment near Doussala village on the road linking Kassoum and Tougan towns in Burkina Faso, burning the equipment before retreating.

JNIM, Al-Qaeda’s West African affiliate, has been blamed for inflaming tensions, carrying out attacks, raping women, and kidnappings in parts of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Following its formation in 2017, the US designated the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) in 2018. 

In 2020, JNIM and the Islamic State in Greater Sahel (ISGS), a rival terrorist group in the region, clashed after a short period of consolidation, with the JNIM emerging victorious and becoming the primary armed group, taking control of some villages near the Burkina-Niger border and using propaganda to influence and recruit people. 

The JNIM and ISGS have used intercommunal tensions in the Niger Republic to recruit new members and advance their agenda. They also promise to implement a justice system through Sharia and to cleanse their territories of an external influence. 

Amnesty International has linked the worsening insecurity in Niger Republic to a large number of children being targeted and recruited by the JNIM, which operates in the Mali-Burkina Faso border region. 

“Niger is perched on the edge of a cliff. An entire generation is growing up surrounded by death and destruction in parts of the country,” Amnesty International’s Matt Wells said, referring to the release of a 57-page report on the conflict on Sept. 13, 2021. 

“The Nigerien government and its international partners must act quickly to monitor and prevent further abuses in the Tillaberi region, as well as to protect the fundamental rights of all those affected by this deadly conflict, particularly children.” 

Children have been killed, denied the right to attend school, and forcibly displaced, according to the report. Girls have been denied the right to leave their homes in some areas, and in some cases, forced to marry fighters. 

JNIM terrorist organisation was formed by the merger of three separate and independent Salafi-jihadi groups in West Africa, all of which had the same goal of enforcing a violent interpretation of Sharia law by expelling those they deemed to be occupiers. 

The three West African organisations that merged to form JNIM in 2017 were Ansar al-Din, al-Murabitoon, and the Sahara branch of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). 

They are exploiting governments’ weaknesses and the ineffectiveness of public services in northern Mali. They also access neglected hinterlands to offer sharia law and medical assistance as an alternative to the state’s failure. 

The terrorists impose violent and conservative rule, prohibiting many forms of celebrations that include weddings. They have also outlawed some traditional local customs. They tax civilians and force men to attend sermons in local mosques.

JNIM also absorbed the Macina Liberation Front (also known as the Macina Battalion), an Ansar al-Din affiliate in central Mali which was associated with a large percentage of violent attacks on civilians in the region, bolstering the organization’s local credentials and territorial control. 

The terrorist group’s leaders come from a variety of ethnic groups, including Tuareg, Fulani, and Arab jihadists, who hail from various parts of the Sahel and Maghreb, each with their own set of shifting interests, territorial control, and motivations. 

Iyad Ag Ghaly, the overall emir of JNIM and a founding commander of Ansared deen in 2011, stated that the goal of the terrorist coalition is to demonstrate resistance, implement Shari’a, and force the “occupying enemy” out of the Sahel. 

Photo: Iyad Ag Ghaly, the emir of JNIM

Analysts, on the other hand, believe that JNIM membership merely consolidates business functions because their modes of operation differ at times. They are only working together to reduce the extent of division among them and create a smooth road of operations across territories. 

The modes of operations of the organisations sometimes differ. Some JNIM members rarely attack civilians, and when a JNIM-implanted explosive killed civilians in Niger Republic in 2019, the group apologised and promised to handle the situation according to Sharia. 

However, due to the group’s weak central command, some organisations within the group act independently and attack civilians they perceive as threats, deviating from the group’s standard operating procedure. 

“According to one study, Katibat Macina militants targeted civilians in roughly 33 per cent of their attacks. Civilians were targeted in two percent of attacks attributed to JNIM-affiliated groups in northern Mali, which is not a traditional Katibat Macina stronghold,” according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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Aliyu Dahiru

Aliyu is an Assistant Editor at HumAngle and Head of the Radicalism and Extremism Desk. He has years of experience researching misinformation and influence operations. He is passionate about analysing jihadism in Africa and has published several articles on the topic. His work has been featured in various local and international publications.

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