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 an FTO on March 22, 2013. AAD was created in late 2011 after its 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 (which 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 appeared in AAD videos in 2015 and 2016 threatening France and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
In 2017, the Sahara Branch of AQIM, AAD, al-Murabitoun, and the Macina Liberation Front came together to form Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM).
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 2013, 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 allegedly faced harassment, torture, and death if they refused to comply with the group’s laws.
AAD was severely weakened by the 2013 French intervention, but increased its activities in 2015 and 2016. In 2016, AAD claimed responsibility for attacks targeting the Malian army and MINUSMA. In July 2016, AAD attacked an army base, leaving 17 soldiers dead and six missing. The following month, the group claimed three attacks: two IED attacks on French forces and a rocket or mortar attack on a joint UN-French base near Tessalit. In October and November 2016, AAD claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on UN and French forces. In February 2017, AAD claimed responsibility for an attack on the Malian Gendarmerie in Tenenkou, Mali. AAD did not claim responsibility for any attacks in 2018 and 2019.
Strength: Precise numbers are unknown.
Location/Area of Operation: Mali
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 operations.