Who is who in Mali? AQIM, Belmoktar’s Crew, and IS Loyalists

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Details of an Islamist attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, the capitol of Mali, continue to unfold.  As of this writing it is believed that 18 hostages have been killed the rest have escaped.  Two gunmen have been killed and the rest are being hunted. French and U.S. special forces are on the scene with Malian law enforcement and others making efforts to free the rest.

It is reminiscent of Moktar Belmoktar’s successful hostage take over of the Amenas gas plant in Algeria in 2013 where 37 of 800 hostages were killed and Belmoktar escaped.  However, factions of his AQIM split-off group, Al Mourabitoun (Signers in Blood) recently defected to IS.  This point is that even though the Al Qaeda-linked group took credit, there won’t be real understanding of who has taken the Radisson until we can profile some of the attackers.

Some have been quick to associate this attack with the IS attacks in Paris last week.  If Adnan Abu al-Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of the Al Mourabitoun sub-group (formerly known as The Movement for Unity in Jihad) is behind it, that could be the case.  But it would not likely be the case if it is Belmoktar’s higher ranking associates are at the helm.

Al Mourabitoun was started by Belmoktar, an important former Al Qaeda figure in the region, who is close with Bin Laden and Zawahiri.  You will notice that the U.S. claimed to have killed Belmoktar in airstrikes in Eastern Libya in June of 2015.  Free Fire blog is skeptical as Belmoktar is elusive by reputation.

The who’s who among groups working together with different interests in Mali will get complicated very fast.  For an understanding of the groups that made up Al Mourabitoun, which ones gave fealty to IS, and why Belmoktar went separate ways from AQIM, here are resources from Freefire blog which has tracked these groups closely:

Alex McAnneny

Belmokhtar: African Networks in the Global Jihad

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Jennifer Keltz

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Ashley Davies

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