Country Report on Terrorism 2017 - Chapter 5 - Ansar Al-Dine

aka Ansar Dine; Ansar al-Din; Ancar Dine; Ansar ul-Din; Ansar Eddine; Defenders of the Faith

Description: The Mali-based group Ansar al-Dine (AAD) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on March 22, 2013. AAD was created in late 2011 after AAD’s leader Iyad ag Ghali failed in his attempt to take over another secular Tuareg organization. Following the March 2012 coup that toppled the Malian government, AAD was among the organizations (that also included al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) to take over northern Mali, destroy UNESCO World Heritage sites, and enforce a severe interpretation of Sharia law upon the civilian population living in the areas under its control.

Beginning in January 2013, French and allied African forces conducted operations in northern Mali to counter AAD and other terrorist groups, eventually forcing AAD and its allies out of the population centers they had seized. Ghali, however, remained free, and has appeared in AAD videos in 2015 and 2016 threatening France and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

In September 2016, the International Criminal Court (ICC) convicted AAD leader Ahmad al‑Faqi al-Mahdi of the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against religious and historic buildings in Timbuktu in 2012. In September 2017, the ICC ordered al-Mahdi to pay more than US $3 million in reparations for his part in the group’s 2012 destruction of the Timbuktu World Heritage site.

In 2017, the Sahara Branch of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Murabitoun, Ansar al-Dine, and the Macina Liberation Front came together to form Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin.

Activities: In early 2012, AAD received backing from AQIM in its fight against the Government of Mali, including for its capture of the Malian towns of Agulhok, Gao, Kidal, Tessalit, and Timbuktu. In March, AAD members were reportedly among the Tuareg rebels responsible for killing 82 Malian soldiers and kidnapping 30 others in an attack against Agulhok. Before the French intervention in January 2013, Malian citizens in towns under AAD’s control who refused to comply with AAD’s laws allegedly faced harassment, torture, and death.

AAD was severely weakened by the 2013 French intervention, but increased its activities in 2015 and 2016. In 2016, AAD claimed attacks targeting the Malian army and MINUSMA. In July 2016, AAD attacked an army base, leaving 17 soldiers dead and six missing, and in the following month the group claimed three attacks: two improvised explosive device attacks on French forces and a rocket or mortar attack on a joint UN-French base near Tessalit. In October and November of 2016, AAD claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on UN and French forces.

Strength: The group’s exact membership numbers were unknown at the end of 2017.

Location/Area of Operation: AAD is active in Mali and has also threatened to attack Mauritania and the Ivory Coast.

Funding and External Aid: AAD cooperates closely with and has received support from AQIM since its inception. AAD is also said to receive funds from foreign donors and through smuggling.