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Africa

Jihadists strike as Mali inches towards peace deal

After eight months of talks, the Malian government and Tuareg rebels are close to a peace deal. Now terror attacks are undermining hopes of an end to violence.

Armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades, masked gunmen burst into a night club in the Malian capital Bamako on Saturday (07.03.2015). Screaming "Allahu akbar" (God is great), they opened fire. Witnesses reported the gunmen singled out a French national and shot him. They fled the premises killing as they went and altogether five people died in that night of violence. The following day Al-Murabitoun, an Algieran jihadist group, claimed responsibility for the assault. They said it was in retaliation for the death of one of their leaders who was killed by French troops in northern Mali in December 2014.

MINUSMA troops UN Mission Mali

More than 30 MINUSMA peacekeepers have been killed since the mission deployed to Mali in 2013

Mali was still reeling from the shock of that attack when the small MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) base in Kidal was hit by rockets on Sunday. Three people were killed in the shelling, a Chadian blue helmet soldier and two children. So far nobody has claimed responsibility. "There is at this stage no way of knowing whether there is a direct link between the two attacks," Paul Melly, Associate Fellow with the Africa Program at the UK-based think tank Chatham House, told DW. "It is obviously quite likely that there is a link, at least in the sense that both lots of attackers are jihadists."

Peace mission under attack

MINUSMA is often the target of assaults. A base on the border with Mauretania was attacked in January and the al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility. The attacks increase tension between MINUSMA and the local population. The UN blue helmet troops tend then to stay in their compounds - out of fear of yet more attacks - rather than mingling with the population they are protecting. The attacks over the weekend may have generated yet more unease.

A week ago the Malian government and the Tuareg rebels tentatively accepted a peace deal following months of talks in Algeria. Whereas Bamako was prepared to accept the terms without further discussion, rebel groups' leaders wanted to consult with their rank and file militia first. The groups include the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Arab Movement of Azawad (MMA). Azawad is the name the rebels give to the territory in northern Mali for which they are claiming autonomy.

Tuareg MNLA fighters in northern Mali

The MNLA says it needs time to consult its supporters in the sparsely-populated northern Malian desert

Melly said one has to differentiate between the mostly Tuareg groups, with some Arab elements, who are engaged in a political negotiating process, and the jihadist groups who have an agenda of global jihad and of spreading radical militant Islamism and who are not engaged in any political process or negotiation. "That is quite separate," he said.

There had not been any targeted attacks on western civilians in Mali for some years. David Zounmenou, analyst with the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, believes that such attacks could become more frequent. Security in hotels, embassies, cafes and restaurants needs to be improved. Such targets were in the cross hairs of the jihadists. "Attacks on Europeans are bound to attract attention," he said.

It is uncertain whether the Tuareg rebels will sign the peace deal by the end of the month. Even if they do, it is hardly likely to prevent further jihadist attacks.

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