JNIM terrorist group originally consisted of four Islamist groups affiliated with al Qaeda: Ansar Dine, Al Mourabitoune, the Macina Liberation Front (MLF), and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Today, Al Mourabitoune has been dismantled after the death of its leader Mohamed Ould Nouini.
The interests, territorial influence and motivations of each of these factions have been very diverse from the start. Currently the group is represented by the leaders of two of these four groups: Iyad Ag Ghali of Ansar Dine and Amadou Koufa of the MLF.
History of JNIM and its members
Iyad Ag Ghali, is a Tuareg, originally from the Kidal region of northern Mali, where he participated in Tuareg rebellions beginning in the 1990s. He is the founder of Ansar Dine and is considered the leader, the emir of JNIM. He created the group in 2011, when the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA), a Tuareg separatist movement, refused to appoint him as its leader. As leader of Ansar Dine, he forged alliances with AQIM and MNLA in 2012, proclaiming northern Mali an “Islamist state” in May of that year.
Amadou Kouffa, nom de guerre of Amadou Diallo, is a Fulani. He joined Ansar Dine in 2012 at the beginning of the war in Mali. In 2015 he founded the Katiba Macina of which he is the military leader. It should also be added that Amadou Kouffa is perceived as a spiritual guide: his advice and directives are followed by many jihadists, such as when he ordered them to stop attacking doctors and Christians
Kouffa had been given for dead in late 2018 by Paris and Bamako after a French military operation, before AQIM denied his death and he reappeared in a video a few months later, proving that he is still alive.
Area of influence of this terrorist group
Violent events attributed to JNIM, account for more than 64 percent of all cases attributed to Islamist groups in the Sahel since 2017. The Macina Liberation Front (MLF), promoting an extremist ideology by heightening inter- and intra-community tensions, is by far the most active faction of the JNIM, operating from central Mali, all the way to Burkina Faso territory.
Ansar Dine extends its influence primarily into northern Mali by maintaining ties with secular leaders of the Tuareg community that it has used to guarantee its own security and political influence. Past collaboration between Ag Ghali and the leaders of AQIM-Sahara and Al-Mourabitoune has given him a foothold in networks spanning the Sahel and Maghreb.
It should be noted that the JNIM terrorist group uses illicit networks as a source of income. Although they do not engage in trafficking directly, these groups tax (willingly or unwillingly) the criminal organizations that operate in their area.
JNIM's internal and external conflicts
The JNIM is not an organized operational unit, as there is much internal dissension and its members come and go according to local alliance games. Moreover, its opposition to the ISGS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara) makes the group all the more fragile. Some of the fighters in these groups regularly change sides according to their personal interests.
Finally, political negotiations with the two leaders of the jihadist group are not closed. Although in previous negotiations they imposed unworkable conditions, the channels of discussion between the armed group and the Malian state seem to remain open.1
1 Additional sources : https://africacenter.org/fr/publication/le-puzzle-forme-par-le-jnim-et-les-groupes-islamistes-militants-au-sahel/