Mali massacre

Print edition : December 11, 2015

People flee from Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, where terrorists struck, on November 20. Photo: Harouna Traore/AP

Security personnel pick up the body of a victim inside the hotel after the attack by gunmen. Photo: Baba Ahmed/AP

Jehadi groups like Al Mourabitoun, which struck in Mali killing close to 30 people, have had a free run in the region after the military campaign that toppled Muammar Qaddafi’s government in Libya.

Just a week after the heinous terror attack in Paris, a terror squad targeted a five-star hotel in Bamako, the capital of Mali. As many as 27 people, many of them foreigners, died in the attack on November 20. Twenty Indian nationals who were staying in the hotel escaped unhurt. But a person of Indian origin holding an American passport, Anita Ashok Datar, was among those killed. A local militant group, Al Mourabitoun, having links with Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), has claimed responsibility for the attack. French Defence Minister Jean Yves Le Drian told the media that the notorious jehadi Mokhtar Benmokhtar was most probably the mastermind of the attack. Benmokhtar came to international attention for his role in the 2013 siege of an oil refinery in Algeria in which dozens of hostages, most of them foreigners, were killed. The Western media had on several occasions reported his death. But after every report of a successful drone attack on him, he has resurfaced dramatically.

Al Mourabitoun issued a statement after the attack on the hotel demanding that the Malian state release its supporters held in Bamako and stop military operations in the north of the country. This group has been roaming in the ungoverned desert areas bordering Libya, Mali and Niger unhindered for years. The military campaign in Libya, inspired by the French and “led from behind” by the United States, which toppled the secular government of Muammar Qaddafi, plunged the region into chaos, giving jehadi groups a free run. The chaos and anarchy that gripped Libya soon spread into neighbouring Mali.

The Tuareg ethnic group, which has been long discriminated against in Mali, launched a revolt against the Central government. The Tuareg rebels, flush with weapons from Libya, in alliance with other militant groups, including those aligned with Al Qaeda, overran the north of the country and were threatening to march to the capital in 2012. It was French military intervention that saved the government and helped liberate the north of the country in 2013. The French have retained a strong military presence in the country ever since.

Since then, Bamako and other towns have been targeted by terrorists. Forty members of the United Nations’ peace-keeping mission in the country have been killed in skirmishes with rebel groups and terrorists in the past two years. There were smaller terror attacks earlier in the year on another hotel and a restaurant in Bamako. Hotels where U.N. forces are put up have been targeted in different parts of the country by rebel groups as well as terrorists. “We don’t want to scare our people, but we have already said that Mali will have to get used to situations like this,” President Ibrahim Baboucar Keita said after the latest terror attack.

From available indications, the Bamako attack was an Al Qaeda-inspired one aimed at reassuring its followers that it was still in business and was not being elbowed out by the Islamic State (I.S.). The credit for the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris in January this year was also claimed by the Al Qaeda branch in Yemen. Al Qaeda, meanwhile, has been accusing the I.S. of indulging in overkill and wanton cruelty. In the Paris attack, many Muslims were among those killed. After the Mali attack, Al Qaeda claimed that it took care to spare the Muslims among the hostages it had taken in the hotel. They were told to recite verses from the Quran and allowed to go. In the past couple of years it is the I.S. that has become more media savvy with its high-profile terror hits worldwide. The I.S. attack in Paris could have been part of the effort to show that it is a much more lethal and potent jehadi group than Al Qaeda.

Boko Haram, the most deadly

The spate of attacks in Mali in particular and West Africa in general has shown that the problem of terrorism has become intractable. The Boko Haram, which has its roots in northern Nigeria, has now outdone the I.S. and Al Qaeda in its brutality. It has spread into neighbouring countries. The Boko Haram has been accepted by the I.S. as an affiliate. In the third week of November, following the Paris attacks, the group staged a series of terrorist attacks killing more than a hundred people in the northern Nigerian towns of Yola and Kano. Kano was hit by two suicide bomb attacks in quick succession on November 17 and 18. The Global Terror Index released by the Washington-based Institute of Economics and Peace has dubbed the Boko Haram “the most deadly terrorist group in the world”. The report noted that the number of deaths caused by the group in 2014 was 6,644. The I.S. was responsible for the deaths of 6,073 people in the same year.

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