Fighting between ISGS jihadists and the MSA and Gatia has been ongoing since the beginning of the week of March 7, 2022. The fighting is taking place in the eastern Ménaka region of Mali, near the border with Niger, and has resulted in the death of many villagers. In addition, several villages around Gao have been targeted. Between 300 and 500 people were killed, mostly civilians. This is the highest death toll since the beginning of the conflict. It is proof that this jihadist group is seeking to control the northeast region of Mali.
While France is withdrawing from Mali and can no longer provide support to the FAMa, the Ménaka region is currently under pressure from the ISGS, which is increasing its attacks on civilians. Only these two armed groups, signatories to the Algiers Agreements, have opposed it. But since Wednesday, June 15, a well-trodden path has been set in motion. As the French soldiers of the Barkhane force disengage, the Russian auxiliaries of the Malian army are moving into their bases. This type of response may have a chance of success if negotiations between the JNIM and the Malian government result in a lasting agreement. It should be noted that the latter are considered by the ISGS as a betrayal of the values of jihad, qualifying JNIM fighters as apostates and thus provoking several defections in their ranks (see our article: Jihad in the Sahel, the conflict between the JNIM and the ISGS).
Situation on the ground
Jihadist attacks are concentrated in the ISGS area of influence known as the “three borders. This area has been the scene of fighting between jihadists and former Tuareg rebels for several years. These groups carry out bloody attacks and regularly target civilians as hostages.
At Tamalat on Tuesday, March 8, 2022, and then at Inchinane on Wednesday, March 9, these two positions held by the MSA and the Gatia were attacked by 200 to 300 motorcycles, usually ridden by two ISGS jihadists from neighboring Niger. Forced to retreat, the militiamen eventually received reinforcements. For the moment, the Malian army has not taken part in the fighting. No precise figure has been given for human losses, but there is talk of around forty, and in some battles even a hundred, civilians being executed, including women. Many families have fled the fighting to nearby camps or localities.
Since then, ISGS men have carried out a series of deadly attacks in which they strike indiscriminately. After the villages of Tamalat and Inchinanane, they attacked Anderamboukane, killing hundreds more civilians. All villages targeted by the ISGS were looted, and businesses, foodstuffs, and vehicles found were seized or burned. Local and humanitarian sources estimate the death toll at between 300 and 500 people and thousands more displaced. The aim of these attacks in the region is to retake positions and spread terror again by killing, destroying property, and driving people to seek refuge elsewhere. They kidnap villagers, seize livestock, and deny people access to water points and wells. The group is most active in the Ménaka region, which straddles the border between Niger and Mali. According to the spokesman for the Gatia armed movement, the four circles of the Ménaka region have been emptied of their population. There is talk of 90,000 displaced people. ُIn three months, more than a thousand civilians are said to have been killed in the so-called “three borders” zone, areas where the symbols of the state are not present. Those who did not reach Ménaka fled to neighboring Niger. In total, 30,000 of the 120,000 inhabitants of the region were reportedly forced to flee. According to separate testimonies collected on the spot, in this locality and its surroundings, several women were raped, murdered or thrown alive into wells.
On the other hand, more than 130 civilians were killed over the weekend in the region of ( At least four villages were attacked simultaneously by jihadists. Local officials and several witnesses say that at least 130 villagers were killed by gunmen who accuse them of complicity with Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group. This tragedy began on Saturday, June 18, 2022, when armed groups arrived in the villages of Dialassagou, Dessagou, and Dianweli to set fire to stores and kill villagers accused of collaborating with elements of the Russian group Wagner. The attack continued on Monday morning, June 20, causing civilians to flee, fearing that their village would be next on the list of attacks by armed groups. Both villages are only five kilometers from the Bandiagara region, a capital that has become a military zone.
Origins of attacks
According to several sources, the killing of an MSA officer on March 1, 2022, was the trigger for the new cycle of violence. In retaliation, the movement blocked some of the jihadists’ access to Tamalat, and the jihadists responded by attacking the town. In addition, since last year, the ISGS has faced renewed tensions with the JNIM, particularly around Tessit, and is under intense pressure from the French force Barkhane. This latest incident was just a pretext to set the world on fire.
It should be noted that for several months, the ISGS has been suffering major setbacks, and several of its senior leaders have been eliminated. With this outburst of violence, despite this attrition, the group shows that it is rebuilding and reorganizing itself. To do this, it is striking violently and indiscriminately. The border area between Ménaka and Tahoua is a zone of influence and a staging area for the ISGS. The group is reasserting and expanding its influence in the area to ensure freedom of movement and access to markets and resources.
At a time when it has been granted “Sahel Province” status by the central Islamic State organization, the ISGS now intends to reassert its regional authority over the area. Note that its rivals in the JNIM are fighting over part of the area liberated by French forces.
The composition of terrorist groups is made up of Tuareg, Fulani and Arab jihadist leaders from the Sahel and Maghreb. The breadth of ethnic and geographic representation has created the illusion of a unified group with growing influence. In reality, the interests, territorial influence, and motivations of each of these factions were very diverse from the start. The various disagreements and confrontations between these armed groups are primarily communal in nature. It should also be noted that it is the same kind of confrontations between these groups and certain Fulani herders, originally from Niger, that have punctuated the daily life of this region of Ménaka for year
The goals and methods of action of the groups also remain different. The goals and methods of action of the groups also remain different. Let’s take the two main ones as examples. While the objectives of the ISGS are primarily political, those of the JNIM are clearly aimed at the violent dissemination of the interpretation of Islam and at changing the social structure.
At the end of January 2022, the JNIM abandoned some of its positions in favor of the FAMa and their new partners, while the ISGS took advantage of the situation to re-occupy certain areas
On the evening of February 4, 2022, a clash broke out between the JNIM and ISGS in Fitili. On February 5, 2022, on the northern front of Tessit, a JNIM attack killed four members of the Peul community in the village of Toubani. They were accused of collusion with the ISGS. In Mali’s Gourma and Burkina Faso’s Sahel, relations between armed groups linked to the extremist organizations of al-Qa’ida and the Islamic State are increasingly tense. This situation has arisen from the transfer of fighters between the two extremist organizations and the occupation of the terrain by their katibats. One katibat leader, Oussa Moumini, left ISGS with all his fighters to join JNIM. In addition, he has forbidden JNIM fighters from coming into the area he occupies in the Malian Gourma. In order to prevent defections, the leaders of the ISGS katibats have forbidden their fighters to listen to the audios in which Amadou Koufa preaches. These and other events mark the beginning of the end of peaceful cohabitation between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Mali’s Gourma and northern Burkina Faso.
Another country in the region is particularly targeted these days by these multiple crises. For example, Burkina Faso, which, like Mali, has been the scene of a military coup and is of interest to Russia, is seeing an increase in jihadist attacks on its soil. The most recent one took place in the village of Seytenga during the night of June 11-12, 2022, killing more than 50 of its inhabitants.
In the search for peace in Mali, local and national governments can take advantage of the infighting and constant turnover of jihadist military leaders by offering fighters escape routes from militant Islamist groups. To be successful, this will require strengthening practices to encourage defections, while providing other options that are both more rewarding and reassuring. Amnesty and reintegration programs have played a significant role in weakening the Salafist group for preaching and fighting in Algeria, and similar policies have weakened Islamist rebellions elsewhere. If governments can provide security and other opportunities, fighters may recognize that it is better to give up their arms.
However, the task is difficult. Indeed, some residents of Ménaka and other parts of the region have been seduced by the assistance provided by jihadists who have taken advantage of the absence of the state. These groups have developed the ability to offer a new social contract to the population. A proposal that is based on more social justice and equity. These two precious ingredients turn the population into a fertile ground for recruitment to the Jihad.