Overview: The Government of Mali remained a willing, if challenged, U.S. counterterrorism partner. Continued terrorist activity was widespread in Mali’s ungoverned northern region with limited attacks spreading into central and southern Mali. Lackluster implementation of the June 2015 peace accord between the Malian government and two coalitions of armed groups hampered the return of public services and security to the north. Mali continues to rely heavily on the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and French forces to provide a measure of stability and security to the northern regions. As the government and northern armed political movements slowly began to implement the peace accord, terrorist groups continued their attacks on all parties to the accord, including former rebel groups with which the terrorists had briefly allied.
The French military continued its integrated counterterrorism mission for the Sahel region under Operation Barkhane, based out of Chad. In cooperation with Malian forces, Barkhane launched numerous operations to degrade the violent extremist elements operating in northern Mali, including al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Murabitoun (AMB), the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), the Macina Liberation Front, and Ansar al-Dine (AAD). Domestic and international security forces believed most, if not all of these groups, coordinated efforts on certain operations. MINUSMA maintained its northern presence in 2016, and continued its work with the Malian government and signatory armed groups to facilitate the redeployment of Malian government officials and security forces to the north.
2016 Terrorist Incidents: AQIM, MUJAO, AMB, and AAD continued to conduct terrorist attacks in northern and central Mali. Land mines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, rocket and mortar attacks, and complex small arms fire attacks primarily targeted international and Malian military forces. From the beginning of the year through the end of September, 25 UN peacekeepers were killed, along with eight civilian contractors and one civilian staff member. Continuing a trend that began in 2015, attacks by violent Islamist extremist groups moved beyond the traditional conflict zone in the north to the center and south of the country. Terrorist incidents included:
- Several high-profile kidnappings of westerners occurred in Mali. On January 7, a Swiss citizen was abducted in Timbuktu; AQIM claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. On October 14, a U.S. citizen was abducted in Niger along the Malian border and reports indicate he was being held in Mali; AQIM and AMB took responsibility for his kidnapping. On December 24, a French citizen was abducted in Gao city; no one claimed responsibility for the kidnapping before year’s end.
- On March 21, gunmen attempted to attack the European Union training mission headquarters at Bamako’s Hotel Nord Sud. One attacker was killed trying to breach the perimeter. One was arrested shortly thereafter. AMB and AQIM were suspected of involvement.
- On April 12, three French soldiers were killed by an IED attack claimed by ADD in Tessalit. In response, French forces initiated a series of arrests that later prompted a violent protest that destroyed the Kidal airport, as well as the kidnapping of four International Committee of the Red Cross staff, who were later released.
- Five UN peacekeepers were killed in a May 29 attack against a MINUSMA convoy near Sevare in central Mali.
- On July 19, an attack against a Malian military base in Nampala, later claimed by AAD, resulted in at least 19 Malian soldiers killed and five kidnapped.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Implementation of Mali’s penal code of 2013, intended to help to counter terrorism and transnational organized crime, continued during 2016. The judiciary prosecuted several terrorism-related cases during the year, but the only convictions were in absentia. Examples of this include the November 28 convictions of Mohamed Ag Mohamed Alassane, Moussa Ag Sidi, and Sidi Mohamed Ag Ouness, all of whom were sentenced to death in absentia for terrorist acts. The National Assembly passed a law on November 9, 2015, that defined the composition, structure, and functions of a special judicial unit focused on the fight against terrorism and transnational crime. Created in 2013 and staffed since 2014, the now fully established unit took the lead in the investigation into the November 20, 2015, attack on the Radisson hotel.
Malian security forces and law enforcement responsible for counterterrorism efforts, particularly the Malian National Guard, Gendarmerie, and police components of the newly established antiterrorism unit (Forces Speciales Anti-terroristes, FORSAT) participated in the U.S. Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance Program for prevention of and response to terrorist attacks. The training efforts included crime scene investigations of a terrorist attack, surveillance detection, first incident response to an attack, securing vital infrastructures, and joint exercises that incorporated and reinforced these training activities. For example, in the lead up to the Africa-France Summit in Bamako in January 2017, Malian security forces planned, rehearsed, and carried out exercises throughout Bamako. In May, Mali and the United States signed an agreement to increase support for the Malian Gendarmerie Crisis Response Team (a SWAT team equivalent) in Bamako.
The Malian Armed Forces under the Ministry of Defense (MOD) remained the primary entities responsible for securing Mali against terrorist threats. The General Directorate of State Security under the Ministry of Security had the authority to investigate and detain persons for terrorism offenses; however, missions between law enforcement and military units that have a counterterrorism mission lacked delineation and coordination. Law enforcement units had a poor record on accountability and respect for human rights.
Although Mali has basic and limited border security enforcement mechanisms in the south, the northern borders remained unsecured. Law enforcement and military units lacked capacity, training, and the necessary equipment to secure Mali’s porous borders. The United States continued to work with the Malian security forces to expand the U.S.-provided Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) program. The gendarmerie, which reports to both the MOD and the Ministry of the Interior (MOI); and the national border police, which reports to the MOI; both provide paramilitary 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, but their effectiveness is limited. Mali receives INTERPOL notices, but the INTERPOL database is unavailable at some points of entry.
Customs officials use travel forms to collect biographical information from travelers at airports and manifests for information on goods transiting borders. When conducting investigations, customs officials and border police compare the biographic data on these forms against travel documents and the manifests against seized goods. The exit and entry stamps used by border officials are inconsistent in size and shape, undermining efforts to authenticate travel documents.
Mali began issuing fully biometric passports on April 1, following the March 13 terrorist attack in Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast. The chip-enabled biometric passports will eventually replace previously issued machine-readable passports. Security measures in the machine-readable passports include micro-printing, UV features, and a full-color digital photo. Unfortunately, many of the relatively sophisticated anti-fraud characteristics of the new Malian passport are rendered moot by the relative ease with which imposters can obtain fraudulent documents, such as birth and marriage certificates (which are still chiefly handwritten or typed on carbon paper, then tracked via municipal ledgers that are also handwritten).
Mali was very cooperative in working with the United States to prevent acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens in the country. The Malian judicial system welcomed ongoing cooperation of U.S. law enforcement agencies in the investigation into the November 20, 2015, attack on the Radisson Hotel in which one U.S. citizen was killed. In October 2015, the U.S. Department of State activated its Antiterrorism Assistance program called SPEAR (Special Program for Embassy Augmentation and Response) as a Quick Reaction Force for Embassy Bamako in the event of a crisis. Since the attack at the Radisson hotel, the U.S. Department of State has signed a multi-year agreement to develop a Crisis Response Team within the Malian Gendarmerie team responsible for responding to these types of attacks in Bamako.
The Malian military continued to focus on strengthening command-and-control capacity. It remained insufficiently resourced and lacked personnel trained in effective law enforcement, counterterrorism investigative techniques, and enhanced border security operations.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Mali is a member of the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. Mali’s financial intelligence unit, the Cellule Nationale de Traitement des Informations Financières (CENTIF-Mali), is a member of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units.
In accordance with the standard West African Economic and Monetary Union provisions pertaining to the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1373 and the ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime, Mali has incorporated provisions into its national law to enable the freezing of terrorist assets; however, implementation of this mechanism remained incomplete. The Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Treasury have the responsibility to provide the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions list to national institutions, all financial institutions, and security forces on a regular basis. The seizure of assets must first be authorized by a judge within the judicial unit focused on the fight against terrorism and trans-border crime. Assets can remain frozen for an unrestricted amount of time during an ongoing investigation. Coordination between investigative agencies is poor, however, and not all suspected cases made it to court.
Most transactions in Mali are cash-based and difficult to regulate given resource constraints. Non-financial businesses and professions are not subject to customer due diligence requirements. Significant challenges to the CENTIF-Mali include a lack of training – especially for investigators who handle terrorist financing cases – as well as a lack of resources to adequately publicize regulations and provide training for bank and public sector employees outside of Bamako.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: In June, Mali drafted its first national strategy for the prevention of radicalization, terrorism, and violent extremism. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for coordinating development and monitoring the national strategy. CVE considerations were also integrated into Mali’s “Program for Accelerated Development in the Northern Regions,” as well as a draft decentralization policy. The Ministry of Religious Affairs is responsible for working with the High Islamic Council and other religious associations to promote moderate Islam and maintain a secular state; however, the absence of Malian government control in much of north and central Mali hindered efforts to prevent increased radicalism and recruitment by violent extremist groups.
International and Regional Cooperation: Mali participated in regional organizations and international bodies including the Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations, and the African Union (AU). Mali remained active in the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership and also participated in Global Counterterrorism Forum events. Mali is also part of the Security Governance Initiative between the United States and six African partners, first announced in 2014, which offers a comprehensive approach to improving security sector governance and capacity to address threats.
The Malian military participated in multinational border security operations under the mandate of the G-5 Sahel (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger). Operations were carried out with French and Mauritanian military forces.
Operation Barkhane continued to support G-5 Sahel operations in the region. In July, the AU led a technical assessment mission to Mali to develop regional options to address terrorism and transnational organized crime in the Sahel-Sahara region.