The Islamic terrorist groups in the region are not making a comeback but they are trying hard to stay visible. Unlike other parts of the world, the various Islamic terror factions are not fighting each other in Mali but they are competing for headlines and attention (which equals new recruits and cash). In Mali and neighboring states most of the Islamic terrorists belong to AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb). This includes local affiliates like Ansar Dine and several new (and quite small) Islamic terror groups in central and southern Mali. AQIM operates throughout North Africa (which Arab speakers call the Maghreb) but is currently suffering losses as personnel defect to ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), especially in Libya. This sort of thing is happening all over the Islamic world as the more fanatic Islamic terrorists seek to identify with what appears to be the most successful Islamic terrorist group at the moment. Given the many setbacks ISIL has suffered in the last year AQIM is holding its own in Africa but the two groups are trying to outdo each other in gaining media attention. This is done by launching attacks on Westerners, especially hotels where foreign journalists live. That guarantees massive headlines and lots of young Moslem men, especially in the West, encouraged to become active supporters. In Mali this means raising cash and seeking recruits to organize and carry out attacks in the more populous, and more hostile to Islamic terrorism, south. In the north the French led counter-terrorism operation has created a very hostile atmosphere for the remaining Islamic terrorists.
AQIM was disappointed with how little media attention they got from targeting non-Moslems in Mali. Three percent of Malians are Christian. In general Islamic terrorists will seek out and threaten or attack Christians wherever they can find them. Islamic terrorists believe Islamic scripture compels them to convert, kill or expel all non-Moslems they can reach. This has led to most Christians in north have already been driven from their homes. Extending this form of terror to the south is more difficult because the Christians down there have more powerful allies in the form of family or tribesmen who are Moslem, tolerant and loyal. That, plus the disinterest of Western media about this sort of thing has made the Islamic terrorists concentrate on what the mass media does find interesting.
In central Mali the government has managed to convince many (200 or more) of the radicalized Fulani men to abandon Islamic terrorism and accept an amnesty. This was done with the help of local religious and tribal leaders who largely agree that AQIM in particular and Islamic terrorism in general will do nothing to help the Fulani tribes that dominate the area. The Islamic terrorist violence here is centered on the town of Mopti which is 450 kilometers northeast of the capital and has been the scene of growing Islamic terrorist violence since 2012. That’s when Islamic radicalism from the north began showing up in central Mali. This got started as several pro-Islamic terrorism Islamic clerics began preaching support for Islamic terrorism. After the Islamic terrorists lost control of the north in 2013 the government sought to shut down any other pro-Islamic terror activity in the south. That included the drug smuggling and other criminal activity the Islamic terror groups use to sustain themselves. These problems are particularly acute among the Fulani people in central Mali. This is largely the Mopti region and that includes the market town of Mopti at the junction of the Niger and Bani rivers. Over 90 percent of Malians live south of Mopti.
There are some twenty million Fulani living in the Sahel (the semi-desert area between the Sahara and the jungle) and some of those in northern Nigeria have become involved in Islamic terrorism via the local Islamic terror group Boko Haram. There are over two million Fulani in Mali and the name of a new Islamic terror group in the south (FLM for Macina Liberation Front) openly identifies with the Fulani (Macina are the local branch of the Fulani). This group became active in early 2015 and claimed responsibility for several attacks since. It started out with calls for Fulani people to live according to strict Islamic rules. That in turn led to violence against tribal and village leaders who opposed this. That escalated to attacks on businesses and government facilities. FLM is composed mostly of young Fulani men and is associated with Ansar Dine (which is largely Tuareg and funded by smuggling profits). Although most Malians are Moslem, few want anything to do with Islamic terrorism and Boko Haram is seen as a major mistake and not welcome at all in Mali. But the Fulani have always seen themselves as a people apart, an attitude common with the nomadic peoples of the Sahel. The Fulani believe they originally migrated from North Africa and the Middle East. Fulai have lighter skin, thinner lips and straighter hair than other black Africans in sub-Saharan Africa and are also Moslem. Most sub-Saharan Africans are Christian or follow ancient local religions but in Mali nearly everyone is Moslem. Fulani have also been involved with smuggling for a long time, in large part because many are still nomadic and the Fulani don’t really believe in borders. Despite these differences the Mali government took advantage of the fact that the Fulani have lived at peace in Mali for a long time and in nearby Nigeria Boko Haram has brought nothing but death, destruction and misery. The radical Fulani clerics were shut down and there was not enough popular support to replace them. The government hopes to get all the radicalized Fulani to abandon Islamic terrorism but it is expected some will refuse and if that number is small enough it will remain a police problem not a threat.
March 21, 2016: In the capital (Bamako) four AQIM gunmen attacked a hotel compound used by EU (European Union) military trainers. The Czech troops on guard quickly stopped the attack by killing one of the attackers and causing the others (possibly including one suicide bomber) to flee. Within 48 hours police had arrested 19 suspects, including two believed to have participated.
March 13, 2016: In the south, across the border in Ivory Coast AQIM attacked a beach resort and left 18 dead. AQIM affiliate Ansar Dine took credit and has long been active in Ivory Coast and maintained camps near the Mali border that were locally recruited Islamic terrorists who often attempted raids into Mali. These have largely failed but these bases were also used to plan terror attacks in both countries. AQIM attacks where it finds the best opportunities.
March 10, 2016: In the north (around Gao) two rival Tuareg clans (the Imghads and Daoussak) have finally agreed to a peace deal. These two groups have been fighting for a long time and in the past year there have been over a hundred casualties. At the moment getting the Tuareg to settle their internal disputes and disagreements with the central government are seen as the best way to bring peace to the north. The Tuareg are the majority up there and most of them are hostile to Islamic terrorism as well as what they perceive as government mistreatment. The peace making strategy in the north has been working but it is slow going.
March 1, 2016: France confirmed that French special operations troops in northern Mali had recently killed a wanted Spanish Moslem (Abu al Nur al Andalusi) who had become a prominent AQIM leader (mainly by appearing on the Internet to call on other European Moslems to join him). The French commandos in northern Mali (and the surrounding region) concentrate on Islamic terrorist leaders and have had a lot of success in finding and killing (or occasionally capturing) them. When killed or captured an AQIM finds that Internet fame can backfire as potential followers note the short careers of these fabricated heroes.