France announces death of senior jihadist official in Mali

France announced on Friday 13 November the “Neutralization” in Mali, by the Barkhane force, of a leading jihadist operational cadre linked to Al-Qaida, whose name has been associated in recent years with numerous attacks in the region.

The Minister of the Armies Florence Parly welcomed in a press release an operation involving “Significant intelligence resources as well as an interception device made up of helicopters and ground troops” leading to a strike against Bah Ag Moussa, described as the “Military leader” of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM).

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Ba Ag Moussa “Is considered responsible for several attacks against Malian and international forces. He was considered to be one of the main jihadist military leaders in Mali, particularly in charge of training new recruits ”, according to the press release.

Former officer of the Malian army

In June, the French army killed in an operation in Mali the historic leader of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (Ams), Abdelmalek Droukdal. The prestigious victory was indisputable: the Algerian had been at the heart of the Sahelian jihad for more than 20 years. But he remained cautiously away from the field and his death did not change the security situation.

That of Ag Moussa, alias «Bamoussa», a former Malian army officer but also a founding member of the jihadist group Ansar Dine, seems to be more significant. This Touareg, considered a “Terrorist” by the United Nations and Washington, was a major player in the various Tuareg rebellions of the 1990s and 2000s. Reinstated in the army in 1996 and then in 2006, he defected each time to take up arms again: towards rebellion the first times, then to jihadism at the dawn of its expansion in the region in 2012.

Selon le think-tank Counter-Extremism Project (CEP), «Bamoussa» became in 2017 “The operational manager” of the GSIM led by the Malian Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Ghaly. The group has since become one of the main jihadist forces in the Sahel along with its intimate enemy, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS).

Responsible for major attacks against Malian forces

Ag Moussa was believed to be responsible for major attacks against Malian forces, including one in July 2016 and the other in March 2019, which killed more than 20 each. And his name came up repeatedly in several attacks in 2020.

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But he also enjoyed immense popularity with the Tuareg, which far exceeded his membership in the GSIM. “Ba Ag Moussa is seen less (by the Tuareg communities, Editor’s note) as a jihadist than as a historical leader of the Tuareg protest”, explained to AFP Ferdaous Bouhlel, associate researcher at the University of Tours, expert in mediation.

A strike which confirms that the military option remains privileged

At the beginning of 2020, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta admitted wanting to discuss with jihadist groups and having sent emissaries to two of their main leaders. Overthrown in August by a military junta, the Malian transitional prime minister Moctar Ouane defended, during the visit to Bamako at the end of October by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian “the need for an offer of dialogue with the armed groups Jihadists.

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But Paris does not budge from its military line. “We cannot dialogue with the jihadist groups which have not given up on the terrorist fight”, Florence Parly recently told AFP. “It is the responsibility of the Malian authorities, not ours, but it is important to discuss”.

This latest strike confirms that the military option remains favored by France, which in recent days had announced separate operations against the GSIM and the EIGS, calling for the neutralization of a few hundred jihadists.

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