Overview: The Government of Mali (GOM) is receptive to U.S. CT assistance. Terrorist activities increased in quantity and lethality in 2019, and continued to target civilians, Mali’s Armed Forces (FAMa), international peacekeepers, and international military forces. Terrorist groups active in Mali include ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS) and JNIM – the umbrella group formed by the Sahara Branch of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, al‑Murabitoun, Ansar al-Dine, and the Macina Liberation Front. Possibly most concerning in the region is the increasing geographic expansion of terrorist activities, in many cases involving tactical-level cooperation between ISIS-GS and JNIM.
Implementation of the 2015 Algiers peace accord between the GOM and two coalitions of armed groups continued to be limited, largely hindering the return of public services and security to northern Mali. Terrorism, insecurity, scarce resources, and a lack of accountability or effective governance resulted in a significant increase in intercommunal violence, particularly in central Mali. The conflict zone has continued to press farther south. Efforts to secure the center of the country in 2019 were hampered by the limited availability of trained FAMa members and increasingly sophisticated and coordinated terrorist attacks against military installations.
Mali has been cooperative in working with the United States to prevent acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens. Malian security forces successfully disrupted several terrorist plots targeting soft-target venues frequented by Westerners in Bamako, such as hotels and restaurants; they arrested numerous terrorist suspects and seized stockpiles of weapons and explosives.
Mali continued to rely heavily on MINUSMA and French forces to help marginally stabilize and secure the northern and central regions. The French military’s Operation Barkhane, an integrated CT mission for the Sahel region, continued efforts to target terrorist elements operating in Mali. MINUSMA maintained its presence in northern Mali in 2019 while taking on a greater role in protecting civilians in that region.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: JNIM and ISIS-GS continued to conduct terrorist attacks. There were multiple terrorist incidents including the following significant attacks:
- On January 20, JNIM conducted a complex attack on a MINUSMA base near Aguelhok, in the Kidal region, which killed 10 Chadian peacekeepers and wounded 25.
- On June 9, armed men believed to be affiliated with JNIM killed at least 35 people in an attack against the predominantly Christian town of Sobane Da, Mopti Region, according to media reports.
- On September 3, an IED struck a civilian bus in Mopti, leaving 14 people dead and 24 wounded. JNIM later issued an apology stating it regretted the deaths of “our brothers and sons” and that the IED was intended for the “French occupier and its acolytes.”
- On September 30, near the Burkina Faso border, simultaneous attacks on a FAMa post in Mondoro and a joint FAMa-G5 Sahel Joint Force base in Boulkessi by groups presumed to be terrorist elements left at least 38 FAMa soldiers dead, 17 wounded, and as many as 27 missing, according to the government’s mid-October reports. JNIM subsequently took responsibility for the attack, claiming to have killed 85 soldiers.
- On November 1, members of ISIS-GS attacked a military base at Indelimane, Menaka region (near the border with Niger), killing at least 54 soldiers. Authorities believe the perpetrators used a stolen Red Cross vehicle to approach the base.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There were no changes to Mali’s CT legal framework in 2019. Mali’s highest criminal court tried 19 terrorism cases in 2019. At least 12 of the cases resulted in convictions and sentences ranging from five years to life imprisonment.
Over the past year, the National Gendarmerie’s Security and Intervention Group (French acronym GSIGN), a U.S. embassy-trained advanced intervention unit, has been deployed to the Segou region in support of the government’s stabilization efforts. The unit supported current gendarme posts, conducted patrols, and investigated suspicious activities. Further gains were stymied by logistical constraints, including the lack of suitable patrol vehicles. An expansion of the GSIGN program will create an additional six operational teams and provide logistical support, including vehicles, to conduct CT operations outside of Bamako.
Malian law specifies that two of the services of the FAMa, the National Gendarmerie and the National Guard, carry out law enforcement CT tasks when called on by the Ministry of Security, the parent agency of the National Police. They perform such functions ineffectively. Mali’s interagency coordination and information sharing remain rudimentary. Resource constraints, corruption, malfunctioning of the judicial system in prosecuting terrorist cases, lack of training and automated national criminal report management system for effective law enforcement, and insufficient border security all hamper Mali’s CT efforts.
Although Mali has basic border security enforcement mechanisms, law enforcement units lacked capacity, training, and the necessary equipment to secure Mali’s porous borders, which extend about 4,500 miles and touch seven countries. The Gendarmerie, which reports to both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Security (MOS), and the National Border Police, which reports to the MOS, both provide support to prevent and deter criminal activity at borders. Customs officials under the Ministry of Economy and Finance monitor the flow of goods and enforce customs laws at borders and ports of entry. Mali receives INTERPOL notices, but the INTERPOL database is unavailable at some points of entry. Exit and entry stamps used by border officials have inconsistent size and shape, undermining efforts to authenticate travel documents. The government receives Public Key Infrastructure certificates for passport security information from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); however, the information sharing is done manually and inconsistently.
Malian passports, including diplomatic and official versions, incorporate security measures including micro-printing, ultraviolet features, and a full-color digital photo. Imposters can obtain fraudulent documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, with relative ease, effectively undermining the veracity of Malian identification documents.
The GOM has made some progress toward the implementation of UNSCR 2396 regarding border security, by implementing biometric screening at established ports of entry. However, Mali has little or no control over its borders; terrorists move across borders with ease.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Mali is a member of GIABA. Mali’s FIU, the National Financial Intelligence Processing Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. There were no significant updates in 2019.
Countering Violent Extremism: Mali launched a new CVE strategy for the center of the country. The strategy focuses on improving governance, reinforcing security, promoting development, and increasing communication with local citizens about the government’s actions. In February the government issued a decree creating a national secretariat under the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Worship for the implementation of a new national CVE strategy. The Ministry of Religious Affairs is responsible for the national strategy for the “prevention of radicalization and terrorism,” as well as working with religious associations to maintain a secular state. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has been hampered in its efforts by a lack of resources and coordination with other ministries. Religious leaders in Mali continue to call for religious toleration and denounce “extremist activity.”
International and Regional Cooperation: Mali remained active in regional organizations and international bodies, including ECOWAS, the UN, the AU, and TSCTP. The Malian military participated in multinational border security operations under the G-5 Sahel mandate. ECOWAS leaders pledged $1 billion in September 2019 to fight terrorism in the Sahel, including in Mali. Although not a member, Mali also participated in GCTF regional workshops and events.