On November 20, six gunmen abducted a Portuguese-born Frenchman from the town of Diema in the western Kayes region, which borders Senegal and Mauritania. This indicates a southward geographical expansion of jihadist activity from bases in the northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal. The militant Islamist group, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), claimed responsibility for the kidnap. The hostage is currently being held near Timbuktu, about 700km from Diema.
The expansion of the group’s operations to new areas has been facilitated by their prolonged control of parts of northern Mali and motivated by a shortage of kidnap targets in the north. Further, ethnic Tuaregs, particularly, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), have opposed the Islamist groups and looked to retake territory. In mid-November, MNLA launched an unsuccessful offensive to recover the town of Menaka from MUJAO, close to the borders with Burkina Faso and Niger.
Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore, who is leading ECOWAS' mediation efforts, is likely to propose an end to hostilities between the MNLA and Islamists Ansar Dine, much of whose leadership is Tuareg. On December 3, representatives from the Malian government travelled to Ouagadougou to engage in dialogue for the first time with the two groups. However, negotiations are unlikely to be successful without significant concessions by all sides.
Ansar Dine’s renouncement of relations with MUJAO and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and possible cooperation with MNLA would increase risks of kidnap and targeted attacks against mining assets in southern Mali, including Kayes, but would probably restrict MUJAO and AQIM access to Burkina Faso and Niger. The risk of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on commercial and diplomatic assets in Bamako would also increase. French assets are particularly likely to be targeted, given France's continuing support for the proposed ECOWAS military intervention.
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