Activities of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Libya, al-Shabab in Somalia and Kenya, and Boko Haram in Nigeria have pushed awareness of jihadi activities in Mali into the background. But, the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in northern Mali—called MINUSMA—announced on February 16 that Islamic extremists killed at least seven peacekeepers last week at a UN base near Kidal. As described by a UN spokesman, the jihadi operation looks operationally sophisticated. The jihadis fired shells outside the camp, diverting attention as their explosive-laden truck entered the camp and then detonated.
Ansar Dine said that the attack was intended to send a message to “the crusader invaders” who assist the Malian government. A few days before, the German president in a visit to Bamako pledged 650 German troops to MINUSMA. Ansar Dine also said that the attack was led by a Mauritanian member of the group.
Ansar Dine is one of the jihadi militant groups that seized most of northern Mali in 2012. Notably, it occupied Timbuktu, where it instituted a regime of rigid sharia (Islamic law) and destroyed UNESCO world heritage sites that it claimed were idolatrous. A combined French and Malian force dislodged the jihadis in 2013 from the territories they had occupied, but failed to destroy them. There have been small scale jihadi attacks on Malian and UN troops ever since. However, the scale and sophistication of this latest attack may indicate that Ansar Dine is accelerating its tempo. Ansar Dine is associated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, not its rival terrorist movement, the Islamic State.