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Fresh Horror As Sahel Terror Rival Groups Clashes Escalate
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Civilians in the Sahel’s tri-border region are caught in the crosshairs of violence perpetrated by rival terrorist groups.

Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), which is affiliated with al-Qaida, and the Islamic State group’s Sahel Province (ISSP), also are targeting security forces and humanitarian workers in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Violence targeting civilians increased by 38% in Mali in 2023, mostly due to JNIM operations.
Overall, “political violence events in Mali and its neighbors Burkina Faso and Niger have increased by 46% since 2021,” according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).

Military coups in all three countries and the withdrawal of French and United Nations forces from the area have left a security vacuum that allows terrorist groups to thrive.

In their bids to gain territory, the ISSP and JNIM fought several large-scale battles against one another between August 2022 and July 2023.

In Mali, the ISSP doubled the territory it controlled from 2022 through the first half of 2023, including taking swaths of northeastern Mali that JNIM and pro-junta militias previously controlled, the U.N. reported.

Both groups used deadly systems such as vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and drones during battles in which each side lost hundreds of fighters, according to the Institute for the Study of War.

The groups are known to impose “zakat,” or forced taxation, and have destroyed and looted places of worship, health centers and infrastructure, including water systems.

Between April 2023 and November 2023, the two groups accounted for the deaths of more than 160 Malian civilians, including at least 24 children, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
JNIM in September 2023 infamously attacked a passenger boat on the Niger River in the Timbuktu region, killing 49 people.

“It was total terror,” one survivor told HRW. “Many died because they couldn’t swim.”

Malian forces and fighters with Russia’s Wagner Group also are accused of committing atrocities against civilians.

“The army … kills people without fearing any consequences,” a man from the Mopti region told HRW. “The jihadists also kill, kidnap, and burn without fear of being held accountable. And we, the civilians, we are caught between a rock and a hard place in our own country.”

Analysts say a potential agreement between ISSP and JNIM has enabled the ISSP to consolidate control over the tri-border area since July 2023. Battles between the rival terrorist organizations have decreased, most notably along the Mali-Niger border.

Only one fatality due to violence between the groups was recorded in northeast Mali between August 2023 and March 2024, compared to 95 in the first seven months of 2023, according to ACLED.

The apparent deal likely aids both groups’ efforts to strengthen their support zones in the Sahel and increases their transnational threat risk, according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project. However, analysts say the deal is likely temporary as the groups continue fighting each other in other areas.
rebels. JNIM and, to a lesser extent, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, also now controls up to 40% of Burkina Faso’s territory.

Throughout 2023, terrorists repeatedly attacked the central Burkina Faso town of Dassa and surrounding areas in the Sanguié province. These are areas where the junta recruited civilians to fight in the Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland, or VDP, militia.

During one incident, about 40 JNIM fighters on motorcycles were accused of killing 17 men in the village of Dofinega in the Centre-Nord region, according to a woman who lost three of her brothers in the attack. She said she saw six gunmen who had gathered her brothers and some children on a nearby field.

She told HRW that the gunmen spared the children, but “selected the adults to execute.”

“They executed them in front of us,” she said. “They shot them in the head.”

ADF Magazine

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