For immediate release | Thursday, July 2, 2020

Security Deteriorating In West Africa As Terror Groups End Alliance

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Attacks Between ISIS, Al-Qaeda Affiliates Exacerbate Threat To Millions

(New York, N.Y.) – Recent attacks by Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara—local affiliates of al-Qaeda and ISIS—against one another is punctuating a security breakdown in West Africa, a region already challenged by ongoing violence. Extremists had held a loose alliance to fight Western-backed governments across the Sahel, but that has broken in recent months under the weight of the French-led and American-backed military campaign to eliminate the terror threat.

In May 2020, ISIS fighters detonated a truck bomb in the border region between Mali and Burkina Faso. Unlike similar previous attacks—where ISIS fighters targeted soldiers and villagers—this attack targeted al-Qaeda militants. The explosion set off a series of al-Qaeda reprisal attacks against ISIS, and both camps disseminated statements and sermons threatening and denouncing the other jihadist entity as “apostates.” In its May 7 issue of Al-Naba, ISIS declared that al-Qaeda had started a “war” against ISIS in West Africa. ISIS criticized JNIM’s leadership as undermining the jihad in favor of negotiating with the Malian government. JNIM sought to diffuse the tension by releasing booklets—indirectly targeted at ISIS sympathizers who are skeptical of JNIM’s motives—by calling for unity among all jihadists. On May 28, ISIS spokesman Abu Hamza al-Qurashi asserted that ISIS will actively retaliate against al-Qaeda in Africa due to violence allegedly instigated by the jihadist camp. U.S. officials tallied almost 1,000 attacks across Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger in the year ending on March 31.

More than one million people in the region have fled their homes due to the worsening violence. The majority are in Burkina Faso, which the United Nations says is home to one of the “fastest-growing humanitarian crises in Africa.” According to U.S. government estimates, more than 920,000 people are now internally displaced within the country.

In Mali, which has been operating under a state of emergency since November 2015, rising ethnic and jihadist-backed violence has the country poised to quickly surpass the total number of civilians killed in all of last year. In 2019, more than 456 were reportedly killed and hundreds more wounded. A tally of U.N. data shows 416 Malian civilians were killed in the first five months of 2020.

To read CEP’s Burkina Faso resource, please click here.

To read CEP’s Mali resource, please click here.