Suspected Jihadist Attack on Passenger Boat in Northern Mali
Passenger Vessel Under Attack
The Malian military recently reported a suspected jihadist attack on a passenger boat traversing the Niger River in northern Mali. The boat, operated by Comanav, was targeted by at least three rockets aimed at its engines. The incident occurred around 11:00 am GMT in the Gourma Rharous area. This attack, suspected to be carried out by armed terrorist groups, caused the vessel to be immobilized on the river, prompting an evacuation process led by the army.
Lack of Information on Casualties
At the time of the initial report, the authorities did not provide details about potential casualties resulting from the incident. There were no follow-up reports hours after the incident, leaving the situation unclear. Social media images showed a cloud of black smoke rising above the river, purportedly from the targeted vessel. However, these images, taken in a remote area, could not be independently verified.
Niger River: A Vital Transport Link
The Niger River plays a crucial role in the region as a primary transport link. This is particularly important in an area where road infrastructure is poor and railways are non-existent. The passenger boat, before the incident, was plying an established route between cities along the river.
Attack Amidst Blockade Announcement
The attack comes on the heels of a recent announcement by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), an alliance linked to Al Qaeda. GSIM declared last month that it was blockading Timbuktu, the historic crossroads city of northern Mali. This act escalated the tension in a region already struggling with insecurity.
The Malian Struggle with Insecurity
Since 2012, Mali has been grappling with insecurity that began with a revolt led by ethnic Tuaregs in the troubled north. This insurgency was later expanded upon by jihadist groups who, in 2015, initiated their own campaign into central Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. This caused a ripple effect of shockwaves across the Sahel, a semi-arid region of western and north-central Africa.
Strained Peace Agreement
The regional rebellion in northern Mali was formally ended by a peace agreement signed between the rebels and the Malian government in 2015. However, this fragile agreement came under strain after the civilian government was overthrown in 2020 and replaced by a junta. Recent tensions were further stoked after the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, scheduled to leave by the end of this year, handed over two bases near Timbuktu to the armed forces. This handover led to clashes between the army and the jihadists, igniting fears for the 2015 peace agreement.
Sahel and West Africa: A Hotbed of Insurgency
Since the 2011 Arab Spring, the Sahel region of West Africa has been grappling with an Islamist insurgency. The intensive conflict in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, often referred to as the Sahel War, has led to heavy fighting and humanitarian crises in these countries. This conflict began during the early stages of the Mali War, which was seen as a spillover conflict from the Insurgency in the Maghreb.
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