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World In the Sahel, war is raging between Al-Qaeda and ISIS

16:56  21 may  2020
16:56  21 may  2020 Source:   liberation.fr

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Des réfugiés du centre du Mali à Bamako, le 29 avril. © MICHELE CATTANI Refugees from central Mali in Bamako, April 29. Since the beginning of the year, the two main branches of jihad in Mali, the Islamic State in the Grand Sahara and Jnim, have been waging a fratricidal battle.

This time, the confrontation takes place with low noise. No triumphal videos or letterheads. For several months, the two main branches of jihad in Mali, the Islamic State in the Grand Sahara (EIGS) and the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (or Jnim, according to its Arabic acronym), have been fighting a battle deadly in the sands of the north and center of the country. The fratricidal struggle has already killed more than 250 people among the combatants on both sides, according to a count by the NGO Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (Acled).

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They are the heirs of the jihadist occupation of the cities of the north of Mali, in 2012. While some of the Islamists chased by the French operation Serval have reconstituted their forces and have regrouped under the banner of Jnim , lending allegiance to Al-Qaeda in 2017, another formally joined ISIS in the same year. The Al-Qaeda branch is headed by the Malian Tuareg Iyad ag-Ghaly, leader of the Ansar ed-Dine group, who ruled Kidal during the occupation; the IS franchise by Adnane Abou Walid al-Sahraoui and Abdoul Hakim al-Sahraoui, originally from Western Sahara, ex-members of Mujao, who controlled the city of Gao.

Neither the Malian soldiers, nor the 5,100 French soldiers of operation Barkhane (which succeeded Serval), nor the 13,000 peacekeepers of the United Nations Mission were able to prevent the two groups from massively recruiting and to extend their influence to the north then to the center of Mali, and to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

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One of the most powerful components of Jnim is the katiba Macina, led by the Fulani preacher Hamadou Kouffa, master of the central delta area of ​​the Niger river. It suffered several defections at the end of last year for the benefit of the EIGS. The local branch of the Islamic State, established in the neighboring region of Liptako-Gourma, known as the "three borders", attracted dissatisfied with the governance of Hamadou Kouffa. "First, some jihadists were frustrated with the rules for the sharing of spoils of war in force in the katiba Macina. Kouffa appropriates everything and then distributes as necessary, while the EIGS automatically applies a distribution between the chiefs and the combatants, explains a good connoisseur of the region. Then there is a discord over the issue of grazing rights. ”

Displaced residents

On both sides, a large part of the combatants come from the Fulani community, a people of shepherds. "For centuries, in the central delta, outside breeders have paid a tax to the Dioros, the masters of the land, for access to the bourgoutières [rich in fodder plants, note] in the flooded area," explains a resident. While Kouffa respects this traditional system, the EIGS says that the land belongs only to God and refuses this payment. Many nomadic Fulani were sensitive to this argument. ” In January, the first incidents were reported. These were isolated settling of scores for defectors. But since the end of March, the two organizations have been fighting "face-to-face". The first battle, won by the katiba Macina, took place near the city of Dialloubé.

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"After chasing the EIGS from the central delta, the Jnim men continued their attacks further east, in the Gourma area. They harass ISIS fighters as far as the border with Burkina Faso, "said the same resident. “Jnim has taken over, especially in Macina. In the Gourma, the situation is more difficult to decipher, even if the Jnim also seems to have the advantage, judge Héni Nsaïbia, researcher at Acled. At the same time, the French forces of Operation Barkhane have maintained intense pressure against the EIGS in Liptako-Gourma, in particular in the province of Oudalan, in Burkina Faso, and in the region of Ménaka in Mali. "

Even if they take place in the bush, far from homes, the fighting has displaced thousands of rural inhabitants, who have come to seek refuge in medium-sized cities. "There are no longer any young men in the villages. They were recruited, or else they fled not to be recruited, "said a witness. "In some villages of the delta, the return of the katiba Macina was experienced as a relief," said Boubacar Ba, of the Center for Analysis on Governance and Security in the Sahel. The more radical EIGS caused black terror. They hardly compromise with local authorities, whether traditional or official. "

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"End of the Sahelian exception"

In an edition of its online weekly Al-Nada, published in early May, ISIS admitted that a "war" was raging between the two organizations, citing six battles having mobilized dozens of vehicles each time. "The EIGS was subjected to institutional pressure from the central Islamic State, inviting it to sever its ties with Al-Qaeda, an enemy against which the Islamic State waged destructive battles in other areas of conflict, explains Héni Nsaïbia. Hence the end of the Sahelian exception, which had hitherto seen them coexist, cooperate and coordinate to varying degrees in the face of their common adversaries. ” Since the end of last year, the EIGS has been officially attached to the Islamic State in West Africa, born of a powerful Boko Haram faction in the Lake Chad basin.

With regard to Mali, IS propagandists refer to the "treachery" of Jnim, which started hostilities "in the midst of a crusade" against France and its allies. They accuse Hamadou Kouffa and Iyad ag-Ghaly of collaborating with the “apostate” Malian authorities (in January, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced to probe the possibilities of discussions with the Jnim) and with “idolatrous” and “tribal” movements ( Tuareg rebel groups). Recurring criticism at the international level from the mouth of the Islamic State. Particularly in Afghanistan, where the organization similarly criticizes the Taliban for their negotiations with Washington and Kabul.

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