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      Violence on the Rise In Mali as New Armed Group Emerges in the Central Region

      Violence on the Rise In Mali as New Armed Group Emerges in the Central Region Violence on the Rise In Mali as New Armed Group Emerges in the Central Region Violence on the Rise In Mali as New Armed Group Emerges in the Central Region

      Africa

      Violence on the Rise In Mali as New Armed Group Emerges in the Central Region

      By Matthieu Jublin

      Three civilians were killed and 16 people — including nine United Nations peacekeepers — were injured Wednesday in a suicide attack on a UN base near the northern town of Gao, said RFI.

      In addition, a civilian was killed in the northern town of Kidal after driving his motorcycle over an improvised explosive device, according to RFI.

      The attacks came just one day after Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report noting that violent crime is on the rise in both northern and central Mali, where a new Islamist armed group — the Macina Liberation Movement — has been carrying out a wave of deadly attacks since January 2015.

      In the north, said HRW, violence at the hands of "criminal bands and armed groups" has been made worse by the lack of government response, and the watchdog has urged the Malian government to step up its operations "to curtail rising violent crime and abuses by armed groups and state security forces."

      Wednesday's incidents come just four days after two Malian soldiers were killed and another two wounded when their vehicle hit "an explosive device" near the central town of Diabaly, some 250 miles northeast of the capital Bamako.

      A week earlier, a forest ranger was shot dead by four men in the central village of Diafarabé.

      Neither of the attacks have been claimed, but both are illustrative of the recent upsurge in violence in the central region of Mali, which has mostly been spared the armed conflict of the north.

      HRW has described central Mali as "a new area of operation for an Islamist armed group," and warned that little is known of the insurgents' claims or modus operandi.

      A new armed Islamist group

      Witnesses interviewed by the human rights watchdog described central Mali's new insurgents as "ethnic Peul [Fulani] from an Islamist armed group allied to either the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) or Ansar Dine."

      Islamist groups Ansar Dine and MUJAO — an al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) splinter group — are just two of the armed factions that attacked northern Mali in 2012 and 2013, triggering French military intervention.

      Al Qaeda Splinter Group Claims Deadly Attack on Red Cross Aid Workers in Mali. Read more here.

      According to HRW, militants have committed "serious abuses in the course of military operations against Mali's security forces" and carried out summary executions of civilians, terrorizing residents in the central regions of Mopti and Ségou.

      Local residents interviewed for the report describe how armed men "dragged the chief of a village near Dioura from his home and executed him, and gunned down another man on a village market day near Nampala."

      The witnesses told HRW they had heard the group refer to itself as the Macina Liberation Movement (La Force de Libération du Macina), while the Malian media have pinned the recent attacks on the Macina Liberation Front (Front de Libération du Macina).

      Macina, a region in central Mali, also refers to a 19th-century theocratic Muslim Fulani state in the Inner Niger Delta area, today known as Mali's Mopti and Ségou regions.

      Security consultant and Mali expert Ousmane Kornio grew up in the town of Konna, in the central Mopti region. Speaking to VICE News on Wednesday, Kornio explained that several armed groups have already carried out attacks in the region.

      "In this region, Fulani farmers formed self-defense groups when the army stopped defending the area," he said. "Today, they are fighting against the Jihadists and the Tuareg."

      One name that keeps cropping up in local media is Amadou Koufa, a radical preacher who many believe is the leader of the Macina Liberation "Movement" or "Front."

      Impossible, said Kornio, who met Koufa when they were both growing up in the town of Konna. "Amadou Koufa died two years ago," said Kornio, adding that Koufa was in his 60s when he was killed during a French military raid in Konna.

      "He [Koufa] was the one who attacked Konna, at the start of 2013, triggering the French intervention [Operation Serval]." When the French arrived in Konna, explained Kornio, Koufa's house was hit, and no one has heard from him since.

      Many believe there is a link between the Macina Liberation Front and Ansar Dine — particularly the group's leader Iyad Ag Ghali, a Tuareg rebel believed to have once fought alongside Amadou Koufa.

      "Koufa completed his radicalization when he met him [Ghali]," said Kornio. "Together they established the radical [Islamist] sect Dawa to disseminate their radical preachings, before turning to armed Jihad and attacking Konna."

      Local Malian media have even referred to the Macina Liberation Front as Iyad Ag Ghali's "armed wing."

      "It's harder to fight the small cells of central Mali than it is to fight the big Jihadist groups of the north," said Kornio. "Operation Barkhane [France's anti-terrosim operation in the Sahel] is based mostly in the north. In the center, it's the people who lead the resistance."

      Follow Matthieu Jublin on Twitter @MatthieuJublin

      Topics: africa, war & conflict, mali, bamako, gao, mopti, macina liberation front, macina liberation movement, ansar dine, aqim, northern mali, central mali, human rights watch, vice news france

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