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Chatting with my Chinese friend (11): Mali terrorist assault: Who? Why? How?

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

11-24-2015 15:18 BJT

By H Karoui

In the aftermath of the attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako that left 27 people dead and just one day after Malian commandos and international special forces stormed the hotel and freed the hostages, my friend Yu contacted me on WeChat, ostensibly upset by what happened:

Most of those kidnapped and killed were ordinary persons, tourists, visitors from Europe, India, China, Turkey and Algeria including diplomats, businessmen, pilots and flight attendants. Can you tell me more about Al-Murabitoun who claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack in Bamako? Why did that happen? China has never done them any wrong. Those three Chinese citizens were just travelers who happened to be in the hotel for business, not politics. A week ago, ISIS slew another Chinese citizen in captivity. How are we supposed to react to this kind of murder against our citizens abroad?

You raised three issues - Who? Why? How? I will answer in order.



Based in the ungoverned triangle of desert between Libya, Mali and Niger, the Al-Murabitoun group used to be an Al-Qaeda affiliate led by notorious one-eyed Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, at least until May 2015.

Originally part of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, it became a separate organization in late 2012 after its leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar announced a split. They claimed responsibility for the January 2013 attack on the Tiguentourine gas facility near In Amenas in southeastern Algeria. More than 800 people were taken hostage during the four-day siege which led to 39 civilian deaths.

Al-Murabitoun with Jihad in West Africa (Mujao) were also involved in terrorist attacks committed in Niger in May 2013, targeting a Nigerian military base and a French uranium mine. In August 2013, al-Murabitoun merged with Al-Mulathamun (“The Masked Men”) Battalion, the Movement for Unity and Mujao.

In May 2015, Al-Murabitoun co-founder Adnan Abu Waleed al-Sahrawi declared the group’s allegiance to ISIS, just two months after a similar move by Boko Haram, the jihadist militants wreaking havoc in northern Nigeria. Co-founder Mokhtar Belmokhtar rejected the pledge and said the group’s shura advisory council had not yet ruled on an ISIS alliance.

In August 2015, a statement released in Arabic and attributed to Al-Murabitoun said that Belmokhtar, who remained loyal to Ayman al Zawahiri, was selected by members of Al-Murabitoun's shura to serve as their leader. The message was at the top and bottom signed "Al-Murabitoun – Al-Qaeda in West Africa."

Belmokhtar was thus showcasing his loyalty to Al-Qaeda after Waleed al-Sahrawi's declaration of loyalty to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

From documents the Associated Press found on the floor in a building occupied by Al-Qaeda fighters for almost a year in Timbuktu, Mali, we know that Belmokhtar sought to establish his own direct line of communication with Al-Qaeda's senior leadership in South Asia. Indeed Al-Qaeda's management sent Al-Murabitoun's first leader Abu Bakr al Muhajir to West Africa to assist Belmokhtar. French forces killed Abu Bakr al Muhajir in April 2014. Mujao's Ahmed al Tilemsi, who formed Al-Murabitoun with Belmokhtar, then took over as top commander. French special forces hunted down Tilemsi as well, killing him in December 2014.

This leaves the group today split in two: Some follow the pro-ISIS leadership of al-Sahrawi while others stay loyal to Al-Qaeda with Belmokhtar.

Following the Bamako assault, the media talked of Al-Murabitoun as if it were still a unified group linked to Al-Qaeda. Actually it is two rival groups, one of them ISIS-affiliated. We don't know which of the two attacked the Radisson Blu Hotel, as both retain the same name.


The answer was given by the terrorist group itself. Its statement was published by the Mauritanian news agency ANI in August 2013: "Your brothers in Mujao and Al-Mulathamun announce their union and fusion in one movement called Al-Murabitoun to unify the ranks of Muslims around the same goal from the Nile to the Atlantic." The jihadist movement in the region was now "stronger than ever" and it would "rout" France and its allies, the statement said.

France and its allies are the target. This is clear. The group formed in reaction to France, which stationed around 3,000 troops in Africa's Sahel region to combat a 2012 Tuareg rebellion hijacked by militants linked to Al-Qaeda. France's Operation Barkhane spanned five countries and primarily consisted of counter-terrorism maneuvers against three Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups: Al-Murabitoun, Islamic Maghreb and Ansar Dine. France started pulling troops out of Mali as a 12,600-strong UN force replaced them.

Just like ISIS or Al-Qaeda, Al-Murabitoun's jihad – holy war – does not end with one single atrocity. Al-Murabitoun was not formed to conduct just one operation. These groups have a doctrine impelling them to endless war against all those they consider enemies.


Honestly, I do not think that Chinese citizens abroad are singled out as targets by jihadists. Four have been killed, I would say, accidentally, just because they happened to be at the wrong place. China is not involved in Middle Eastern or African conflicts in the same way as the US, France and other Western powers. China is at peace with the world, and so it should remain. That is true power. It is not necessary to react to provocations.


( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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