CEP-KAS: Sahel Monitoring January 2023

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This second monthly analytical report on open source observations of Jihadi activities throughout the Sahel will focus on the most significant events that occurred in January 2023.

(N.B.: As we refine our methodology for documenting claimed attacks, we no longer mention all different attacks per media channel. Instead, we have opted for the more detailed and correct information provided by The Islamic State’s weekly newsletter an-Naba’, hence filtering out double mentions, mistakes on geolocation, etc. Thus, providing a more realistic count of Jihadi claimed attacks in the region. ISWAP’s posts will be considered when they add information to claims made in an-Naba’. In the case of JNIM, we mostly rely on their infographic posted in Arabic, French, and English on their operations during January 2023.)


Whereas the month of December 2022 was quasi exclusively dominated by the Islamic State’s bay’a campaign to their new “Caliph,” this past month the social media activity dropped to—what one could refer to as—a normal level.

Most significant events were the attempted attack on the Nigerian President by ISWAP, a bay’a from local tribes in Northern Mali to Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM)’s Emir Iyad Ag Ghaly and an attack by JNIM killing “dozens of Malian soldiers and five Wagner mercenaries.”

Attacks in the Sahel, January 2023

The Islamic State and al-Qaeda claimed a total of 34 different attacks. Thirteen attacks by JNIM in Mali have been registered and a total of 21 attacks by ISWAP throughout Nigeria.

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Most attacks were small scale clashes with the Nigerian army, or, in the case of JNIM, with the Malian gendarmerie, although there are some significant targets to be mentioned.


The majority of the attacks carried out by ISWAP during January 2023 were aimed at the Nigerian army. Most of the attacks seem to be low-scale hit-and-run operations resulting in a relatively low casualty count.

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On December 29, 2022, however, ISWAP attempted to kill the president of Nigeria in a coordinated attack on a governmental palace in Kogi. Three guards were killed in the explosion. The president himself never was endangered during these operations.

As reported by MilitantWire, “In Nigeria, two significant events occurred between Christmas and the New Year. The first took place on December 29th with an explosion in Kogi State. What is particularly newsworthy about the incident is that the blast occurred while President Muhammadu Buhari was making a visit to Kogi. Some reporting indicates that the timing of the blast came within minutes of the president’s itinerary. Members of Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) claimed that President Buhari was the target of the blast.”

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Another notable attack, claimed by ISWAP, was on a church in the area of Kogi. The numbers of attacks on Christian villages and churches are on the rise throughout the entire territory of the Islamic State in Africa. This attack can hardly be regarded as an isolated incident. Likely the attacks on Christians will continue throughout the following weeks and months.

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These attacks demonstrate the increased ability of ISWAP to attack targets outside their operational center in the northeastern parts of Nigeria. The attack on the Nigerian head of government is also significant since the country is heading towards presidential elections on February 25 and are an indication that ISWAP is developing into a force that seeks to destabilize the entire country rather than the regions in which they have a strong presence.


By far the most interesting event during the month of January were the pledges of allegiance (bay’a) to Iyad Ag Ghali, the emir of JNIM, by Azawagh tribesmen in the area of Menaka. The Long War Journal reported: “According to Radio France Internationale (RFI), the clan notables belonged to the Daoussahak community near the northern Malian town of Inékar, close to the borders with Niger.” 

Pictures of the event were published on January 23; a video followed a day later. The importance of this message can hardly be underestimated as it was years ago Ag Ghali was seen in public.

Militant Wire: “The appearances of Ag Ghaly are rare. They usually occur in the Kidal region, the stronghold of the separatist Tuaregs, mainly the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad in northern Mali on the border with Algeria. Ag Ghaly’s last appearance was in October 2020 in the Kidal region.”

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The most important clash during the month of January manifested itself in an ambush on the road between Kumara and Macina on January 10. Al-Qaeda affiliates claim to have killed dozens of Malian soldiers and five Wagner mercenaries.

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Near the end of the month az-Zallaqa Media published an overview of JNIM attacks troughout Mali during January 2023:

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Regional security deteriorates

At the same time, the current Malian regime continues to hamper the operations of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). At the end of January, both MedEvac and personnel rotation flights for German troops were disrupted by Malian officials, withholding and delaying flight permits. This resulted in discussions within Germany about an early termination of Germany’s troop contribution for MINUSMA, scheduled to end in May 2024. With just over 500 soldiers, Germany is within the top 10 troop contributing nations within MINUSMA and an early withdrawal would create significant challenges for the operational activities of the U.N. mission.

Furthermore, the security situation also continuous to deteriorate in Burkina Faso. While JNIM attacks increasing in the country, the military-led government demanded the departure of the last remaining 400 French troops from the country in January. Furthermore, a local volunteer militia, deployed to stem JNIM expansion, committed a large-scale massacre on civilians, apparently in revenge for JNIM operations. The United Nations is currently investigating the incident, which demonstrates the risk of relying on untrained volunteer forces in providing security in a conflict zone.


The number of attacks claimed by Jihadist groups throughout the Sahel in the month of January 2023, remains rather stable. The areas in which these attacks took place are more or less the same locations as in December 2022.

The most notable events were the pledges of allegiance to JNIM’s Emir Iyad Ag Ghaly, JNIM’s attack on Wagner mercenaries, and Malian soldiers and the attempted attack by ISWAP on Nigerian President Buhari.

Meanwhile, more and more reports are emerging showing how the Russian mercenaries of the Wagner Group are filling up the security void left by the French and its NATO allies, after the forced withdrawal from Mali and Burkina Faso. This will likely lead to a further destabilization of the situation in both countries.

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.


On October 27, 2018, domestic terrorist Robert D. Bowers carried out an anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. He fired on congregants as they gathered for worship, killing 11 people and wounding six others.

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