Country Report on Terrorism 2014 - Chapter 2 - Mali

Overview: The Government of Mali remained a willing U.S. counterterrorism partner, despite serious challenges, which included renewed fighting and insecurity in some northern regions, and a protracted peace process that hampered the return of government services and security to the north. The government’s counterterrorism efforts remained focused on violent extremist elements who continued to play a destabilizing role in Mali’s largely ungoverned northern regions. Despite continued security efforts and successes in expelling violent extremists in some parts of the vast northern region, violent extremist groups remained active, exploiting the lack of effective control of swathes of territory by governmental forces, northern armed groups, and troop drawdowns linked to the reconfiguration of French military operations. The government’s ability to effectively disrupt terrorist activities was hampered by the Malian army’s defeat in May at the hands of northern armed rebel groups in Kidal.

Mali relies 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. MINUSMA significantly expanded its northern presence in 2014, including in Kidal, and it continued to work with the Malian government and armed groups to facilitate the redeployment of Malian administrators and security forces to the north.

The United States resumed initial security assistance cooperation with Mali in 2014, with an emphasis on institution building, civilian control, and respect for human rights. To help strengthen Malian counterterrorism crisis response capacity, the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program offered an initial crisis management seminar for senior Malian officials involved in planning responses to terrorist incidents.

The French military’s 18-month mission in Mali, Operation SERVAL, was replaced in July by an integrated counterterrorism force for the Sahel region entitled Operation BARKHANE. In cooperation with Malian forces, BARKHANE launched numerous operations to degrade remaining 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), and Ansar al-Dine (AAD). Other key counterterrorist efforts included a September French and Malian joint military operation in response to increased improvised explosive device (IED) attacks. On December 10, Malian and French forces eliminated 10 members of AMB, including Ahmed el Tilemsi, a senior leader of AMB and founding member of MUJAO.

Mali is one of six countries participating in the President’s Security Governance Initiative (SGI) announced at the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit. SGI focuses on the management, oversight, and accountability of the security sector at the institutional level.

2014 Terrorist Incidents: AQIM, MUJAO, AMB, and AAD continued to conduct terrorist attacks in 2014; IEDs were used with higher frequency and success compared to 2013, and regularly targeted MINUSMA, French, and Malian forces. Detonated IEDs alone resulted in over 100 injuries to these forces and the deaths of 19 MINUSMA personnel in 2014, a stark increase from the four peacekeeper deaths in 2013. Violent extremists also used rocket or mortar fire, landmines, and suicide bombings. Incidents linked to terrorism included:

  • Between May 27 and September 15, a total of 27 IED, landmine, and rocket or mortar attacks targeted MINUSMA premises and personnel (15 IED or mine incidents and 12 rocket or mortar fire incidents). This included a June 11 suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack in Aguelhok that killed four peacekeepers and injured six, along with four Malian Defense and Security Forces elements.
  • On September 2, four UN peacekeepers from Chad were killed when their truck was blown up by a landmine near Kidal.
  • On September 18, five UN peacekeepers from Chad were killed when their truck drove over a mine in the Kidal region.
  • On October 3, nine UN peacekeeping troops from Niger were killed in an ambush in the Gao region of Mali.
  • On November 25, an IED targeted a governmental convoy carrying the Minister of Rural Development, killing two Malian soldiers and injuring nine.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Mali’s criminal justice system continued to implement the new penal code of 2013, intended to help counter terrorism and transnational organized crime. In an effort to prioritize and strengthen criminal justice institutions with a responsibility for terrorism-related activities, Malian authorities began staffing the specialized counterterrorism unit’s judicial component (composed of police, investigators, and judges). The Malian Ministry of Justice and Police Agencies began to work directly with the U.S. government to promote efficient practices and conduct appropriate rule of law training. Around 25 members of the Malian police and Gendarme also participated in a U.S. Africa Command-funded Crime Scene Investigation Course focused on the collection and storage of evidence.

The Malian Armed Forces and Air Force under the Ministry of Defense remained the primary entities responsible for securing Mali against terrorist threats. The General Directorate of State Security under the Ministry of Security has the authority to investigate and detain persons for terrorism offenses. Law enforcement and military units did not coordinate on counterterrorism missions, inhibiting their capacity to detect, deter, and respond to terrorist incidents. Law enforcement units displayed insufficient command, lacked resources and control capacity, and had a poor record of accountability and respect for human rights. In order to improve its counterterrorism crisis response capacity, the U.S. Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program offered an initial crisis management seminar for senior Malian officials involved in planning responses to terrorist incidents.

The Ministry of Internal Security and Civilian Protection’s interagency working group to reform the security sector in Mali, conceived in 2013, had yet to move beyond the discussion phase; MINUSMA worked with the Malian government in 2014 to move this from discussion to action. Mali also lacked a national counterterrorism strategy.

Although Mali has basic border security enforcement mechanisms, law enforcement units lacked capacity, training, and mobility assets to effectively secure Mali’s porous borders. In May, Mali began using the U.S.-funded Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System at its international airport for passenger screening and biometric collection. The gendarmerie – which reports to both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior – and the national border police – under the Ministry of Interior – continued to provide paramilitary support to prevent and deter criminal activity at borders. Customs officials under the Ministry of Economy and Finance continued to monitor the flow of goods and enforce customs laws at borders and ports of entry. Access to the Interpol list is restricted to senior authorities and is made available to investigators upon request.

Customs officials have 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 increasingly compare the biographic data on forms against presented travel documents or manifests against goods possessed. However, the exit and entry stamps used by border officials are inconsistent in size and shape due to poor training and resources, undermining efforts to authenticate travel documents. Additionally, illegal reproduction of these stamps is easy.

In May 2012, Mali introduced an updated machine-readable passport linked to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The new passport contains several security additions, including micro printing, ultraviolet features, and a full-color digital photo. However, Malian diplomatic and official passports have still not been updated. 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.

While the Prosecutor’s office estimates 200 arrests since 2013 for crimes in connection with terrorism and rebellion against the state, data on number of terrorism-related arrests made in calendar year 2014 was not available at year’s end. Mali did not prosecute any terrorism cases in 2014. As in 2013, resource constraints, a lack of training in investigative techniques, and inexperience with trying terrorism cases continue to plague a weak judicial system. Although no longer in the immediate post-coup environment of 2013, the government remained primarily focused on achieving a peace agreement with northern armed groups.

Mali is very cooperative in working with the United States to prevent acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens in the country. In March, the Malian government extradited Alhassane Ould Mohamed – also known as Cheibani – to the United States to face charges for the murder of one U.S. diplomat and the attempted murder of another U.S. diplomat in Niger in 2000. Cheibani, who had been providing support to AMB, was captured by French forces in late 2013. Efforts also began in 2014 on a Special Program for Embassy Augmentation and Response program with the Malian National Guard, aimed at developing the country’s capacity to effectively respond and coordinate with the United States to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks directed at U.S. citizens in Mali.

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 (FATF)-style regional body. In May 2013, the National Assembly passed a law amending the Penal Code and the Penal Procedures Code and created a judicial unit focused on the fight against terrorism and trans-border crime. A prosecutor in charge of this “anti-terrorist” judicial unit was appointed in July 2014. In November, the prosecutor formed an investigative team composed of judges and gendarmerie, rendering the court operational. The court has the authority to implement Article 30 related to financial terrorism, including a mechanism to freeze assets administratively.

The Malian government freezes and confiscates terrorist assets without delay. The asset seizure must first be authorized by a judge in the new judicial unit targeting terrorism and trans-border crimes. Assets can be frozen indefinitely during the investigation period. However, coordination between investigative agencies is poor, thus not all suspected cases make it to court.

Because the majority of transactions in Mali are cash-based, it is difficult to monitor and regulate money/value transfer and other remittance services given resource constraints. Additionally, non-financial businesses and professions are not subject to customer due diligence requirements.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes

Regional and International Cooperation: During 2014, Mali continued its cooperation with regional and international partners both militarily and politically, and remained active in bodies including ECOWAS, the UN, and the AU. Mali is also a member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership and participated in the Global Counterterrorism Forum.

The Malian military participated in multinational counterterrorism operations in 2014, including Operation BAOBAB in cooperation with Operation BARKHANE, and the Mauritanian military. The AU created a follow-up and support group for the political and security situation in Mali and has held six meetings in Mali with international partners on enhancing international cooperation to bring political stability and security in Mali. President Keita participated in the inaugural “G-5 of the Sahel” summit in Nouakchott in December to discuss security and terrorist concerns with fellow heads of state from the Sahel.

Countering Radicalization to Violence and Violent Extremism: While Mali has no official strategy in place to counter violent extremism (CVE), the Malian government has developed a National Reconciliation Policy that considers the need to delegitimize extremist ideologies and the promotion of social cohesion between communities. CVE considerations are 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, by working with the High Islamic Council and other religious associations to promote moderate Islam and maintain a secular state, is developing a coherent approach to address rising radicalization in Mali. Conversely, efforts to prevent increased radicalism and recruitment by violent extremist groups have been hindered by the absence of the Malian government in much of the north.

Mali volunteered to serve as an initial pilot country for the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, a public-private funding mechanism designed to support local, community-based projects to strengthen resilience against violent extremism.