Mali Attacks: What You Need To Know


Twenty-seven bodies have been found in the Radisson Blu hotel, as a hostage situation has officially ended in Mali’s capital Bamako. Here’s the breakdown of what you need to know to understand the recent Mali Attacks.

Al-Mourabitoun claimed responsibility for the Mali Attacks. They are an Islamist militia group associated with Al-Qaeda. They have made sure to point out that they are not in alignment with ISIS, and some analysts are interpreting the timing of this attack as an attempt to get some of the attention back to Al-Qaeda and away from ISIS.

You can actually trace Al-Mourabitoun’s roots back to a civil war not in Mali but in neighbouring Algeria in the 1990s.


Mali Attacks: The Algerian backstory

French forces holding severed heads during Algerian War of Independence

Source: 21CenturyManifesto

To cut a really complicated story short, France used to control both Algeria and Mali, along with a bunch of other countries. These two enormous countries neighbour each other across North and West Africa, and both countries are majority Muslim in religion. Mali got independence in 1960, but France was much more reluctant to let go of Algeria because it saw the North African country as being literally part of France, a bit like how England sees Scotland or Northern Ireland. Independence movements were in full swing across the world in the 1950s. Campaigns for independence from Algerian groups led to the Algerian War of Independence against France 1954-1962, which saw terrible violence and torture used by both sides. This war ended with Algerian independence, but not everyone was satisfied.

As early as 1964 militant Islamic movements were demanding that the newly independent Algerian state incorporate Islam even further into its laws, even though Islam was already a central part of Algeria’s constitution. Throughout the 1970s, this militant form of Islamism spread throughout universities, where students were also frustrated by the privileging of French-speaking over Arabic-speaking graduates in terms of scarce jobs. What we saw then, was a continuing resentment of France, whose colonialism and violence in the war was blamed for the bad state things were in, which included for some a wish for stricter Islamic rule. The Algerian government actually encouraged fundamentalist Islam for a time as a counter to left-wing views amongst students, but either way the situation escalated and turned into an all-out extremely violent civil war between Islamist groups and the Algerian government in the 1990s.

The most hard-line of these groups was the Armed Islamic Group (GIA being the French acronym). Their ambitions involved totally overthrowing the Algerian government to establish a full-blown Islamic state, and terror tactics targeting civilians to try to get what they wanted. Fast forward to 1999, and we see the Islamist rebels lose their popular support after years of violence, particularly when the newly Algerian president offered amnesty and forgiveness for those who laid down their weapons.

Most did lay down their weapons, with the exception of a splinter group from the hard-line GIA, because some people just don’t quit. This group was known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

GSPC maintained their presence in the North African region known as the Maghreb, and in 2003 became Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), pledging their allegiance to Al-Qaeda to fight their joint enemy: former coloniser France.


Splintering Militant Islamic Groups and Convenient Alliances

This is a story about militant Islamic groups splintering off from one another and basically taking all the opportunities they can get.

In 2011, a group separated off from Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and became known as the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. The goal was to focus on spreading their violent interpretation of the normally peaceful Muslim notion of jihad further into West Africa. The group still shared an affinity with leading figures in Al-Qaeda like Osama bin Laden, despite their split from AQIM.   

Both AQIM and Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) were involved in the armed conflict in Mali that began in 2012, and which continues sporadically to the present day.


Mali’s Armed Conflict: Tuareg Insurgency

In 2012, a rebel group led by Tuareg people began fighting the Malian government for independent control of northern parts of Mali.

Tuareg people traditionally lived and moved around the Sahara desert in North Africa, crossing back and forth through international boundaries including northern Mali with their herds. Like many people in Mali, the Tuareg mostly have Muslim beliefs mixed with traditional religions. When Mali and neighbouring African countries became independent around 1960, the land the Tuareg people were used to moving through with their livestock, was divided among the newly independent nations of Nigeria, Mali, Algeria, Libya and Burkina Faso, disrupting their mobile way of life.

Rebellions from certain Tuareg groups had been violently suppressed by the Malian army in the past. However, as more weapons flowed into the region as a consequence of the Libyan civil war in 2012, a Tuareg rebel group was able to lead a military campaign to occupy northern parts of Mali which they wanted independent control over.

Tuareg rebel in desert

Source: AfricanCivilWarFashions

This armed Tuareg insurgency was backed by a number of Islamist militant groups, including AQIM and MOJWA. Another important Islamist militant group was Ansar Dine, headed by a Tuareg leader who had been active in earlier unsuccessful Tuareg uprisings, and who is suspected of having links with Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb. MOJWA is also reported to be led by a Tuareg man from Mauritania.

Each of these groups is linked through individuals who are associated with more than one group, but each group tends to have its own ambitions. We can see this in what happened next. These groups worked together to take over northern parts of Mali, and then to successfully drive back the Malian government’s armed forces. After this, however, the Islamist militia groups set about imposing strict Sharia law in the towns they had captured. Sharia law is drawn from Islamic texts. While the Malian constitution draws heavily on Sharia law for its own legal system, the Sharia law imposed by the Islamic militia groups included banning football, music and bars and imposing the wearing of headscarves for all women.

This is not what the Tuareg had in mind for their newly independent country. The Tuareg now began fighting against the Islamic militant groups who had backed the Tuareg insurgency. Eventually, it was a combination of the Islamic militant groups who had control of the northern Mali territories, and not the Tuareg rebels.


France gets involved

Mali’s government had been destabilised by its own army who mutinied over the president’s handling of the crisis in the north. The government now requested France’s help in light of the radical Islamist takeover. France responded by sending in troops in January 2013, earning Hollande great popularity among much of the Malian population. The French-led operation was largely a success and much of the territory was regained within a month. Some analysts are holding up the successful French operation against radical Islamists as a model for how to combat ISIS.

Explore: 7 suggested ways to combat ISIS.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, leader of al Mourabitoun

Source: AFP/HO/ANI

It was also in 2013 that Al-Moubaritoun – the Islamist militant group taking responsibility for the recent Mali attacks – was formed. Instead of a split, this came from a merger between Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), and another group called the Masked Men Brigade. It was announced in a statement that the merger would “unify the ranks of Muslims around the same goal” and would “rout” France and its allies. This group is mainly made up of Tuareg people.

Mali was able to hold peaceful elections in 2013, and Malian governance resumed a normal state of affairs with the swearing in of current president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.

Peace deals were signed in 2013 and then again in February 2015. However, sporadic fighting and terror attacks continued to take place, mainly from the hobbled but still present Islamist groups in the region and associated Tuareg groups who remain poorly integrated in the country.

All in all, between 1,000 and 1,500 people were killed in Mali between 2012 and the present day as part of the conflict started by the Tuareg insurgency. Most casualties being on the side of Islamist militias, and around 500,000 people were displaced.


The Recent Mali Attacks

On 20th November 2015, 170 were taken hostage in the Radisson Blu hotel in the capital of Bamako. Two gunmen have been killed, and twenty-seven bodies have been found.

Security forces arrive outside Mali hotel Radisson Blu

Source: Photoshot/Xinhua

Al-Mourabitoun, an al-Qaida-affiliated group whose members are mostly Tuaregs and Arabs, has claimed responsibility for the attack. If this turns out to be true, according to the Guardian it will be the “first high-profile such attack by al-Qaeda for some time. The group is trying to steal back some of the limelight and news agenda again, as it once did so effectively.”

ISIS is a breakaway group from Al-Qaeda, and if this is indeed an attempt to upstage IS in light of recent events in Paris, it will be evidence of how the deep rivalry between the group is “responsible for a wave of violence across much of the Islamic world and, as we found out, last week, beyond.”

I skipped to the end, why did these Mali attacks happen?: Violent groups who want to see a stricter version of Islamic rule in North and West Africa and who follow Al-Qaeda’s cause of violent jihad have joined with nationalist causes when the opportunity has arisen. This has do with France’s involvement in countries like Algeria and Mali – where some see France as a continuing Western colonial interference, and others see it as a handy powerful ally. That explains the violence over the years. Some people explain the violence now as an attempt to upstage ISIS who broke away from Al-Qaeda to wage a more violent and more ambitious version of jihad.


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4 Things The Media Gets Wrong About Migrant Smugglers

What are Migrant Smugglers?

Migrant smuggling – or people smuggling – means helping someone to enter a country without authorisation. A migrant smuggler will generally help people to get around border controls or get them false or fake travel or identity documents.

Migrant smugglers have been in the news a lot in the last months. Many say they are the guys we need to deal with if we want to solve Europe’s ongoing migrant and refugee crisis. Earlier in the year there was even talk of bombing their boats to get rid of them.

We found 4 things the media is getting totally wrong about migrant smugglers.

#1 Migrant smugglers can be stopped with better border controls.



European states are sending warships to confront people smugglers in the Mediterranean.

Wrong move! All the evidence tells us that increased border controls only encourage smugglers and make people more dependent on them.

People struggling through a razor wire border fence

Smugglers only exist because border controls exist

As leading migration professor Hein de Haas explains, smuggling people in boats across the Mediterranean only began when Spain and Italy introduced visas and blocked free entry in the early 1990s. This started out as a small-scale operation run by local fishermen. However, the more border controls Spain introduced, the more professionalised and profitable the smuggling became. The hit-back against migrant smugglers that has been ongoing throughout the 2000s only encouraged them to try out different routes.

Border controls do not put smugglers off. The opposite is true: Migrant smugglers exist because border controls exist.

Border controls create market demand for smugglers who provide a service to people escaping conflict, persecution and economic stagnation.

#2 All migrant smugglers do is exploit people for profit.

We often read news stories about abusive people smugglers who charge vulnerable people extortionate amounts of money, only to abandon them in death-trap boats in the middle of the Mediterranean.

This stereotype is true of some but not all migrant smugglers. People smugglers provide a professional service. Just as with any other service, they need to keep up a good reputation as reliable, trustworthy and cheap. Some smugglers, like Michael who works between Sudan and Libya, have to conduct their business alongside other smugglers who give their trade a bad name: “They sell our people like beasts. Eritreans are my people, my family. I take responsibility for them.”

Also just like the full-time providers of any other professional service, people smugglers need to make money to keep their business going.

Not all smugglers turn a profit, let alone a massive one. Some have been known to operate on a pay-what-you-can basis – providing free service for those who cannot pay.

Amir Heidari a well known human smuggler

Amir Heidari worked on a pay-what-you-can basis

Refugee turned anthropologist Shahram Khosravi of Stockholm University interviewed one of the best-known human smugglers among Iranians, Iraqis and Kurds – Amir Heidari – in prison in Sweden. He tells how his philosophy was to “take more from one who had money and send one who had no money for free.”

However – since increased border controls have made smuggling people a much riskier business – prices have been pushed up and up in the last decades.

Some would describe the work of people smugglers as more than simply a service. In the words of one Eritrean refugee speaking to Al Jazeera: “Smugglers could be compared to those individuals who helped black people during slavery moving from the South to the North in the US and today are considered heroes. Maybe one day smugglers will be considered heroes too because they helped people find freedom.”  

Some people smugglers are undoubtedly exploiting the market that has been created by restrictive border controls. What is really important is that not all smugglers make a significant profit. The reason why this is so important is that treating all smugglers like criminals makes things a hell of a lot worse.

#3 All migrant smugglers are criminals who don’t care about people’s safety.

Accepting payment to smuggle someone across a state border without authorisation is a criminal offence across most European countries, punishable with imprisonment or deportation.

This means that in official terms all smugglers are criminals, because smuggling is against the law.

However, not all smugglers fit the stereotype of reckless gangsters who don’t mind putting people in danger.

Much more worryingly, it is treating smugglers as criminals and threatening them with arrest which encourages them to take more risks and put more people in danger.

Border authorities in boat

Migrant smugglers will do anything to avoid getting arrested by border patrols

It is often thought that making people smuggling a crime is what will keep people safe from exploitation. In reality, making smuggling a crime is often what pushes smugglers towards criminal gangs and encourages them to exploit people.

As migration researcher Mollie Gerver explains for London School of Economics, the fear of arrest means smugglers require extensive intelligence information to evade border officials, which they can only get by teaming up with those involved in arms trading and trafficking sex workers.

This means the trade is being taken over by professional criminal gangs, pushing out more amateur smugglers who have closer personal ties to refugee communities and so are less likely to demand large profit margins.

The fear of arrest also encourages smugglers to commit terrible acts of violence against the people they are transporting. As Gerver writes: ” In June, smugglers wished to avoid reaching an EU port to prevent being arrested, so they threw pregnant women and children overboard and then turned their ship back to sea. These were repugnant actions, but they were also a response to legal incentives: they threw individuals overboard precisely to avoid imprisonment.”

Let’s be clear; some migrant smugglers do commit awful acts of negligence and violence. However, treating them as if they are all alike only gives them more incentive to operate underground and take risks. Anything to avoid being caught.

#4 Stopping people smugglers will put an end to migrant deaths. 

Believing in this myth, as many do, has grave consequences. Attempts to crack down on people smuggling will likely lead to more deaths. This is because criminalising smuggling and closing off established routes will only encourage smugglers to seek out other, often much more dangerous, routes.

Experience has shown us that no disincentive is great enough to stop people trying to leave if they want to leave – and Europe’s current strategy of targeting people smugglers only contributes to migrant deaths. 

This graphic from Research Professor Jørgen Carling says it all.

Migrant Smugglers Explained: Sure, smugglers are part of the process which leads to people drowning in the Mediterranean. However, they are operating within a market that has been created by border restrictions, some of the people they help would call them ‘heroes’ and ‘freedom facilitators’ and yet they are increasingly encouraged to take risks in order to avoid arrest.

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You’ve all met Cecil

Hunting - image of Cecil the Lion at the Hwange National Park

Cecil the Lion; recognisable due to the dark streak in his mane

Now a bit of a celebrity among conservationists and animal lovers. Cecil was part of a study being run by Oxford University; which meant he was being monitored and wearing a tracking collar.

In July 2015 Cecil was lured out of his home in the Hwange National Park and shot with a bow and arrow. The culprit; an American dentist called Walter Palmer. Bad move, Walter.

The internet went mad. Many people called for Palmer’s arrest and the Zimbabwe government is trying to extradite him from the USA to face charges. Oh, and this happened;


When is hunting legal?

Ernest Hemingway with the dead corpse of a lion

Hunting is legal in many countries

Hunting lions in Zimbabwe is not actually illegal. In fact, they aren’t even a protected species. But hunters must have a permit issued by the government in order to hunt.

Reuters reports that the killing of Cecil was illegal because the land owner did not have a permit to hunt a lion. Palmer claims he thought the hunt was legal – and that he’d left the organising of permits to his guides. Palmer had paid £32,000 to go on a hunt. With that kind of money, you’d expect everything to be above board.

Poaching = illegal hunting

If you hear someone talking about poaching; they’re not talking eggs. Poaching is the term for hunting without the permission of whoever owns the land. Elephants are often targeted by poachers as their ivory tusks are very expensive.

So, if Palmer illegally killed Cecil the lion does that make him a poacher? Either way, he’s in big trouble.


Should we really blame hunters?

Delta Airlines Aeroplane - Hunting Cecil the Lion

Delta Airlines now ban the transportation of “trophies”

After all, Walter Palmer believed he was playing by the rules. If he’s telling the truth, then he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong. The people responsible are the governments which allow legal hunting, and also companies which make it easy for hunters to transport their prize home.

Campaign group Sum Of Us is pushing for airlines to ban the transportation of dead animals which belong to endangered species.

Their argument is simple – Hunters usually take the head, or even the whole body of their kill home as a prize. If the hunters can’t transport their prey home, then they will have less motivation to kill.


Join the Sum of Us campaign to ban the transport of endangered species

The campaign recently scored a win when airline company Delta, who announced they would ban transportation of lions along with other endangered species. This follows Emirates, United and American Airlines who made a similar announcement earlier this year. Yes most commercial airlines are involved. 


Can hunting actually help endangered species?

Image of a White Rhino, nearly extinct due to over-hunting

Did hunting save the White Rhino?

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe warns that the African Lion could be extinct by 2050. It’s estimated there are only 20,000-32,000 African lions in existence – about 50% less than there were three decades ago. So why do some countries allow hunting?

When the White Rhino was nearly extinct at the start of the 20th century, landowners were encouraged to protect and breed them – then release them back into the wild. The landowners would then make money charging hunters for hunting permits. In this instance, it did help to boost the numbers of Rhinos… but at the end of the day, the animals were being bred to be killed.

Some also argue the money paid by big game hunters can be used to further help conservation. Animals will die eventually so why not let an older creature be killed – using the money to stop illegal poachers? The government can also regulate the amount of permits given out – controlling the number of animals which are killed.

Safari in Kenya

Would banning hunting lead to less tourism?

But does the money actually end up going towards stopping poachers? Countries like Namibia are good at showing where the money is used, others such as Zimbabwe are less transparent.

10% of Zimbabwe’s income is due to tourism. Without hunting, would this amount drop? Hunting permits are also sold for animals which aren’t endangered (think; zebras), meaning that in some cases the country selling the permit is getting money without losing a protected animal.

Win-win, right? Perhaps not, as either way animals end up being killed for sport.


The government has a choice; charge money for hunting permits, train rangers to catch poachers and use the money to protect the rest of the species. Or they can ban all hunting, which won’t really stop the poachers from trying.

It’s not all about money though. Every animal is part of the food chain – and removing animals for sport disrupts the chain – and this affects all the other animals. Killing Cecil the lion might mean that other endangered species might live a little longer (as Cecil is no longer around to eat them). However a recent study in Science Magazine shows how removing one link from the chain could cause big problems down the line. The loss of lions and other predators in an area could lead to a rise in the numbers of baboons. Baboons are known to spread into areas occupied by humans… bringing nasty parasites with them. So you see how it all connects?


How can we stop poaching?

Drones are being used to stop hunting by poachers

Drones may be the key to stopping poachers

Of course, not everyone agrees with the arguments above. So, apart from staying on the look out for poachers, are there other methods of stopping illegal hunting?

New technology might be the answer. Several park rangers are experimenting with drones. They are used to spot poachers –and so far it seems to work. Other research is looking into the patterns of where poaching occurs. Scientists will attempt to predict where the next incidents are likely to take place. Who said science is boring, huh?

Other conservationists are staining the tusks of Rhinos and Elephants. The dye is harmless to the animal, but makes humans become sick. This means the tusks are useless for medicine (what they are usually used for) and the number of hunted animals is decreasing.

Countries like Kenya and South Africa are taking the military option. However the risk of being caught doesn’t seem to stop poachers. When the number of rangers patrols increased, so did the number poachers. The poachers also started to bring AK-47s to protect themselves – and aren’t afraid to use them. Maybe it’s time for a new plan?


Hunting Explained? If we want hunting to stop, maybe we should question the governments who make it legal, rather than attacking a dentist who thought he was obeying the rules.