Jihadist militants continue to wage a low-level insurgency in Mali, targetting government troops and their French allies. Last week, the Group for Support of Islam & Muslims (Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin, or JNIM) claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on French forces in northern Mali. The assault with two explosive-laden vehicles on a base in the Gossi area of Timbuktu region left one French soldier dead. (LWJ, July 30) But internecine fighting between jihadist factions has also started to take an increasing toll. Since an apparent truce broke down in February, there have been repeated clashes between JNIM, an al-Qaeda affiliate, and the self-declared Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS, or EIGS by its French rendering). The ISGS has also engaged another Qaeda-aligned faction active along the border with Burkina Faso, the Macina Liberation Front.
The US State Department's newly released "Country Reports on Terrorism 2019" makes special note for the first time of an international white supremacist threat. The report states that the Department's Counterterrorism Bureau last year "increased its efforts to combat racially or ethnically motivated terrorism (REMT). REMT, in particular white supremacist terrorism, continues to be a threat to the global community, with violence both on the rise and spreading geographically, as white supremacist and nativist movements and individuals increasingly target immigrants; Jewish, Muslim, and other religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or intersex (LGBTI) individuals; governments; and other perceived enemies. The CT Bureau is working with our law enforcement and foreign partners to take concrete actions to address this growing threat."
Protesters gathered in the town of Atmeh in Syria's opposition-held Idlib province on June 23 to demand the release of a locally based British aid worker arrested by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Islamist militia formerly known as the Nusra Front that now controls much of the province. Tauqir Sharif, who has been based in Atmeh near the Turkish border since 2013, was detained by HTS earlier in the week in a raid on his home. Footage of the protest showed many women and children among dozens chanting and holding banners calling for Sharif to be freed, as they marched through the town. The crowd finally gathered outside the closed gates of a compound guarded by masked militiamen. Demonstrators also protested closure of education and other social services by HTS, chanting "We want schools to open."
Soldiers rampaging through villages in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have unlawfully killed or forcibly disappeared at least 199 people between February and April 2020, Amnesty International said in a new briefing published June 10. Some of the killings amount to extrajudicial executions and among the victims are internally displaced persons. The briefing, "'They Executed Some and Brought the Rest with Them': Civilian Lives at risk in the Sahel," calls on the governments of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to put an end to the impunity by their security forces, and to ensure that military operations are in conformity with human rights and international humanitarian law. In Mali and Burkina Faso, where the situation amounts to a "non-international armed conflict," the deliberate killings of unarmed civilians by security forces could meet the qualification of war crimes.
More than a thousand people are on the run following a brutal attack on a camp for refugees and displaced persons in western Niger on May 30. Three were killed and several others wounded as over 50 gunmen on motorbikes swarmed into the camp at Intikane, Tahoua region, some 70 kilometers from the Malian border. The camp housed some 20,000 refugees from Mali and an additional 15,000 internally displaced persons from within Niger, including many ethnic Tuaregs, who have fled fighting in their own communities. The dead were identified as two Malian refugees and a local leader of the Intikane host community. In addition to killing the three men, the assailants torched food supplies and other aid. They also destroyed mobile phone towers and the main water station and pipes—cutting off communication and the water supply to the displaced population and host community. Around 1,100 people who fled the attack have now arrived at the village of Telemces, 27 kilometers from Intikane, and are in urgent need of water, food and other assistance.
In another sign of the Islamist insurgency in the Sahel reaching West Africa's littoral states, the armed forces of Ivory Coast announced on May 24 the completion of a joint operation with the military of neighboring inland Burkina Faso, to clear out a Qaedist camp that had been established on the border between the two countries. Some 1,000 Ivorian soldiers took part in the operation, in which eight militants were reported killed and 38 others detained—24 in Burkina Faso and 14 in Ivory Coast. More are thought to have escaped on motorbikes through the bush of Comoé National Park, which lies along the northern border of Ivory Coast. The militants are said to be followers of the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al-Qaeda's West African franchise. Automatic weapons, motorbikes and other equipment was seized in the raid outside Alidougou, a border town in southern Burkina Faso.
The US Supreme Court ruled May 18 in Opati v. Republic of Sudan that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) permits a punitive damages award against Sudan for the role it played in 1998 al-Qaeda bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Following the bombings, victims and family members sued Sudan under the "state-sponsored terrorism exception" to the FSIA, but the act at the time included no provision for punitive damages in suits filed under the "exception." Congress amended the act in 2008 to allow punitive damages in such cases. A district court in 2017 awarded a $6 billion judgment against Sudan, but the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the amendment did not allow plaintiffs to seek damages for attacks that occurred before its enactment. The Supreme Court disagreed, and held that Congress intended the amendment to apply retroactively.
Security forces in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso have been accused in a rising toll of extrajudicial killings committed in the context of their battle against jihadist groups in the Sahelian region. In Mali, soldiers allegedly conducted 101 executions, 32 forced disappearances, and 32 cases of torture in the first three months of the year, the UN Mission in Mali reported—a significant increase over the last quarter of 2019.