On September 15, 2019, a truck bomb exploded outside of the Al-Rai Hospital in Syria’s Aleppo Governorate, killing 12 civilians and injuring many more. There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
Upon the announcement of JNIM’s formation, media coverage volleyed between two narratives. Some media sources such as Newsweek claimed the merger was an attempt by al-Qaeda to reassert influence against the growing presence of ISIS in the region, while other sources, such as the Associated Press, claimed the extremist group was opportunistic of Mali’s ongoing crisis. Conor Gaffey, Newsweek, June 6, 2017, https://www.newsweek.com/isis-africa-al-qaeda-africa-boko-haram-621443; “3 Mali Islamic extremist groups merge, pledge to al-Qaeda,” Associated Press, March 2, 2017, https://www.foxnews.com/world/3-mali-islamic-extremist-groups-merge-pledge-to-al-qaeda. Given Mali’s fragile security environment, and Bamako’s increasingly strained and underequipped security forces, JNIM was faced with favorable circumstances to assert power in the region. Morocco World News noted that JNIM’s formation was not only a threat to Mali, but to North Africa as well, as other radical groups will look to JNIM and attempt to “carry out other attacks, larger in number and scale.”Saad Eddine Lamzouwaq, “ISIS, AQIM, and Polisario: How Do Terrorist Threats in the Sahel Affect Morocco?,” Morocco World News, June 2, 2017, https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2017/06/218501/isis-aqim-and-polisario-terrorist-threats-sahel-affect-morocco. Following JNIM’s announcement, France 24 mentioned that neighboring governments will come to see Mali “as a launchpad [for extremists] for attacks against other countries in the region.” Accordingly, Africa News noted that Mali’s delay in implementing the necessary security forces in its jihadist-heavy northern region has made neighboring west African countries vulnerable to increased attacks. “Islamist groups in Mali merge, pledge allegiance to al-Qaeda,” Africa News, March 3, 2017, https://www.africanews.com/2017/03/03/islamist-groups-in-mali-merge-and-pledge-allegiance-to-al-qaeda/.
Online publication Middle East Eye as well as Morocco World News, focused on the internal shifts among violent extremist groups in the region. Leaders who lost sway within their local groups, such as Mokhtar Belmokhtar of al-Mourabitoun, shifted allegiance to JNIM to reassert their authority within the AQIM network. Malek Bachir, “EXCLUSIVE: Notorious leader of Saharan al-Qaeda group loses power,” Middle East Eye, May 9, 2017, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/exclusive-notorious-leader-saharan-al-qaeda-group-loses-power; Hassan Masiky, “Algerian Ineptitude Leads to Resurgence of Al-Qaeda Across the Sahel and Sahara,” Morocco World News, March 8, 2017, https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2017/03/210406/algerian-ineptitude-leads-resurgence-al-qaeda-across-sahel-sahara. Other media sources focused on how JNIM was the manifestation of AQIM’s resilience. According to Alia Brahimi of Al Jazeera, AQIM “withstood the chokehold of the Algerian security services, U.S. drones, and the French-led intervention in Mali, to launch a range of attacks in recent years, whether storming a beach resort in Ivory Coast or conducting a low-level insurgency in northern Mali.”Alia Brahimi, “ISIL after Mosul: Insurgency and rivalry,” Al Jazeera, March 19, 2017, https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2017/3/19/isil-after-mosul-insurgency-and-rivalry.
France 24 further noted that since the four local leaders were all in the same video, they easily can collaborate and meet with one another, demonstrating “that it is impossible to monitor this huge region militarily.”“Three jihadi groups active in Mali announce merger,” France 24, March 3, 2017, https://www.france24.com/en/20170303-three-jihadi-groups-mali-announce-merger-al-qaeda. The immediacy in which JNIM’s leadership could convene within what Saad Eddine Lamzouwaq of Morocco World News called a “geographical safe haven” is critical when each leader has “ties with local ethnic communities and tribes” that can be leveraged against the “weakness of some central governments.” Saad Eddine Lamzouwaq, “ISIS, AQIM, and Polisario: How Do Terrorist Threats in the Sahel Affect Morocco?,” Morocco World News, June 2, 2017, https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2017/06/218501/isis-aqim-and-polisario-terrorist-threats-sahel-affect-morocco.
As of 2022, international coverage on JNIM remains frequent as the insurgent group has subjected Mali to increasing levels of violence for the past five years with no prospect of slowing down. Although media sources are not always precise in their differentiation of attacks attributed to JNIM or AQIM, the consensus remains that the terror group remains beyond the control of Malian and foreign forces.
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