Ansar Dine

FormedNovember 2011
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackMarch 2012: Following the military coup in Mali, Ansar Dine, along with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), the Mouvement pour l’Unification et le Jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO) and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) launched an offensive and eventually took control of Northern Mali (unknown casualties). [1]
Last AttackDecember 24, 2015: AD militants attacked a MNLA base in Talhandak village in Kidal, Mali and allegedly took over the village (10 killed, unknown wounded). [2] [3] [4]
UpdatedAugust 8, 2016

Narrative Summary

Ansar Dine (AD), translated as “Defenders of the Faith,” is an Islamic group founded in December 2011 by Iyad Ag Ghali.  The group aims to establish Shariah law across Mali and targets western civilians, especially peacekeepers and its ideology closely mirrors that of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] Ghali previously worked as a Malian diplomat and a negotiator for the Malian government in hostage situations with AQIM. [10] [11]  In the 1990s, he led an uprising of ethnic Tuaregs in a coup, but failed to remove the Malian government. [12] Much later in October 2011, Ghali offered himself as a leader to the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a group of ethnic Tuaregs who wanted rebellion, but the group rejected him because of his dedication to establishing Shariah law in Mali.  Shortly after, in December, Ghali established Ansar Dine. [13] [14]

Ansar Dine is best known for its involvement in the Malian coup of 2012.  In March 2012, rebels launched an uprising to try to take over northern Mali.  In response to the Malian government’s mismanagement of the rebellion, Malian soldiers staged a coup and ousted the Malian president, Amadou Touré.  Ansar Dine, the MNLA, AQIM and the Mouvement pour l’Unification et le Jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO) worked together to take advantage of the lack of rule of law to invade northern Mali, defeat the Malian security forces and occupy the region. [15] As the MNLA seized new territory, Ansar Dine, as a sort of parasitic ally, would enter the territory to help occupy it, but then attempt to take over leadership from the MNLA to accomplish its goal of installing Shariah law.  

In April 2012, Ansar Dine, AQIM and MUJAO ended their collective alliances with the MNLA, because the MNLA’s objective, to establish a secular and independent state in northern Mali, strongly contradicted Ansar Dine, AQIM and MUJAO’s aims to create a united Malian state governed by Shariah law. [16] [17] After Ansar Dine’s seizure of Timbuktu from the MNLA at the end of April, Ghali made a statement on local radio that called on local residents to help Ansar Dine to establish Shariah law throughout the region. [18] Shortly after, Ansar Dine, AQIM and MUJAO began targeting the MNLA in an attempt to expel them from the region.  Ansar Dine purportedly sent 100 fighters to help MUJAO fight the MNLA in Gao, while it fought the MNLA in Timbuktu during the Battles of Gao and Timbuktu from June 26-27, 2012.  Immediately after, Ansar Dine made public statements that it chased out all MNLA factions from the three major northern cities and had taken over Timbuktu. [19] [20] 

During the expulsion of the MNLA, Abdelmalek Droukdel, the emir of AQIM, wrote a confidential letter to Ghali and Ansar Dine’s allies that instructed Ansar Dine to act as a domestic movement, so that it would not draw international attention. Ansar Dine is reportedly an affiliate of AQIM.  AQIM allegedly wanted to keep the affiliation secret so that Ansar Dine could expand operations without the watchful eye of the media or the international community. [21]

Ansar Dine and its allies spent the summer of 2012 establishing territory.  By late June 2012, Ansar Dine and its allies controlled Timbuktu, Kidal, Gao and their associated environs in a piece of territory the size of Texas. [22].  Ansar Dine established Shariah law in its territory, banning alcohol, smoking, cemetery visits on Fridays, soccer and demanding that all women wear veils. [23] The militant group punished those in its occupied territory that did not follow strict Shariah law by whipping them.  Youth protests erupted in July 2012 in Goundam, a city in the Timbuktu region, after Ansar Dine whipped a woman holding her child for not having her veil properly positioned. [24] In early July 2012, Ansar Dine destroyed seven mausoleums in Timbuktu, which were part of the United Nations World Heritage. [25]  

In November 2012, Ansar Dine stated its willingness to engage in peace talks with regional governments in Bamako, Mali.  Additionally, the group gave permission to Malian humanitarian groups to enter Northern Mali, under the condition that Ansar Dine was in charge of the transfer of goods and the distribution of the food and medicines. [26] [27]  In December 2012, Ansar Dine participated in talks with the government of Burkina Faso and the MNLA to establish a cessation of hostilities, but the talks did not yield a lasting ceasefire. [28]

The rebel occupation of northern Mali prompted a French military intervention in January 2013, which ousted Ansar Dine and its allies from control, but did not entirely vanquish them from the region. [29] Despite the French intervention and the post-intervention counterterrorism efforts, Ansar Dine continued to operate and attack United Nations and French forces using rockets, mortars and IED attacks. [30]  Ansar Dine was mostly dormant during 2014, rebuilding its forces, but in 2015, the group started its attacks again. [31]

In January 2015, a group called the Macina Liberation Front (FLM) gained international attention for its violent attacks in central Mali.  The group’s leader, Amadou Kouffa, is a mentee of Ghali, and his group was allegedly formed as an affiliate to Ansar Dine for coordination of its operations in central and southern Mali.  The media attributed several attacks in 2015 to the FLM that Ansar Dine claimed responsibility for; however, it is unclear which group actually carried out the attacks. [32] 

Leadership

  1. Iyad ag Ghali (Unknown to Present): Ghali, also known as the “Lion of the Desert,” founded Ansar Dine in December 2011. Prior to his leadership of Ansar Dine, he was a diplomat, a negotiator between Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Malian government in hostage situations, a rebel chieftain, and the leader of the Tuareg rebellion against the Malian government in 1990. Before the Malian coup in March 2012, he submitted himself for the leadership position of the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), but was rejected because of his commitment to establishing Shariah law. After the French intervention in Mali in January 2013, Ghali disappeared, only resurfacing in the media in 2015. On February 26, 2013, he was added to the United States and the United Nations lists of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.[33]

Ideology & Goals

Ansar Dine is a Salafi-jihadist group that aims to establish Shariah law across Mali and targets western civilians, especially peacekeepers in Mali. [34] [35] [36] Ansar Dine’s ideology closely mirrors that of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which came to view Ansar Dine as its southern arm in Mali.  During Ansar Dine’s takeover of northern Mali, Abdelmalek Droukdel, the emir of AQIM, wrote a confidential letter to Ghali that instructed Ansar Dine to act as a domestic movement, so that it would not draw international attention. Ansar Dine is reportedly a front group for AQIM, though it has never been publicly recognized by AQIM as an official affiliate.  It is unclear to what extent it operates under AQIM orders. [37]

Designated/Listed

Resources

Ansar Dine is funded primarily by ransoms from kidnappings, opium trafficking, money from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and allegedly by the government of Qatar. [38] [39] [40] [41] [42] 

Geographical Locations

Ansar Dine operates out of northern Mali and has carried out attacks in the Kidal, Bamako, Timbuktu, Segou, Sikasso, Koulikoro and Gao regions of the country.  Following the Malian coup, Ansar Dine collaborated with its allies to control an area the size of Texas in northern Mali from June 2012 to January 2013; Ansar Dine had control over Timbuktu and its environs.  After the French intervention, Ansar Dine lost most of its territory to the Malian armed forces.  [43] [44] [45] [46] [47]

Targets & Tactics

Ansar Dine militants employ suicide attacks, explosive-laden vehicles, rockets, mortars, grenades and rifles to weaken its primary targets, which include the French and Malian militaries, the Malian police force, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and after the initial occupation of land in northern Mali, the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). [48] [49] [50]

 

Political Activities

In November 2012, Ansar Dine stated its willingness to have peace talks with regional governments in Bamako, Mali.  Additionally, the group gave permission to humanitarian agencies to enter Northern Mali under the condition that Ansar Dine was in charge of the transfer of goods and the distribution of the food and medicines. [51] [52]  In December 2012, Ansar Dine participated in talks with the government of Burkina Faso and the MNLA to establish a cessation of hostilities, but the talks did not yield a lasting peace. [53] 

Major Attacks

  1. March 2012: Following the military coup in Mali, Ansar Dine, along with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), the Mouvement pour l’Unification et le Jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO) and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) launched an offensive and eventually took control of Northern Mali (unknown casualties).[54]
  2. June 2012: AD and MUJAO fought alongside one another in the Battles of Gao and Timbuktu in northern Mali against the MNLA, ultimately seizing Gao, Timbuktu and their environs (unknown casualties).[55]
  3. October 23, 2013: Four Ansar Dine suicide bombers detonated cars saddled with explosives at the United Nations checkpoint in Tessalit in the Kidal region of Mali, killing peacekeepers and civilians (7 killed, 6 wounded).[56]
  4. October 7, 2014: Ansar Dine militants allegedly fired rockets at the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the French military camp in Kidal, Mali (1 killed, 2 wounded).[57]
  5. June 27, 2015: Militants attacked the Malian military base in Nara in the Koulikoro region of Mali, killing soldiers (12 killed, 9+ wounded).[58]
  6. August 3, 2015: Militants ambushed the Malian National Guard base in Gourma Rharous in the Timbuktu region of Mali, killing 11 Malian soldiers (11 killed, 1 wounded).[59]
  7. November 28, 2015: Militants attacked the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stablilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) with rockets in Kidal city, Mali, killing a civilian and two peacekeepers (3 killed, 20 wounded).[60]
  8. December 24, 2015: Ansar Dine militants attacked a National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) base in Talhandak village in Kidal, Mali and allegedly took over the village (10 killed, unknown wounded).[61]
  9. August 7, 2016: Militants ambushed Malian security forces between the villages of Teninkou and Shari in Mali (unknown casualties).[62]

Relationships with Other Groups

Ansar Dine’s ideology closely mirrors that of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which came to view Ansar Dine as its southern arm in Mali. [63]  [64] [65]  During the Ansar Dine-led expulsion of the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) from northern Mali, Abdelmalek Droukdel, the emir of AQIM, wrote a confidential letter to Ghali that instructed Ansar Dine to act as a domestic movement, so that it would not draw international attention. Ansar Dine is reportedly an affiliate of AQIM.  AQIM allegedly wanted to keep the affiliation secret so that Ansar Dine could expand operations without the watchful eye of the media or the international community. [66]

After the Malian coup of 2012, Ansar Dine worked with the MNLA, AQIM and the Mouvement pour l’Unification et le Jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (MUJAO) to take advantage of the lack of rule of law and invade and occupy northern Mali. [67] Ansar Dine served as a sort of parasitic ally to the MNLA; as the MNLA seized new territory, Ansar Dine would enter the territory to help hold it, but then attempt to take over leadership in order to install Shariah law.  In April 2012, Ansar Dine, AQIM and MUJAO ended their collective alliances with the MNLA, because the MNLA’s objective, to establish a secular and independent state in northern Mali, strongly contradicted their aims to create a united Malian state governed by Shariah law. [68] [69] Ansar Dine, AQIM and MUJAO began targeting the MNLA shortly thereafter.  Ansar Dine purportedly sent 100 fighters to help MUJAO to fight the MNLA in Gao, while it fought the MNLA in Timbuktu during the Battles of Gao and Timbuktu from June 26-27, 2012.  Immediately after, Ansar Dine made public statements that it chased out all MNLA factions from the three major northern cities and had taken over Timbuktu. [70] [71] In December 2012, Ansar Dine participated in talks with the government of Burkina Faso and the MNLA to establish a cease of hostilities; unfortunately, the talks did not yield peace. [72]

In January 2015, a group called the Macina Liberation Front (FLM) gained international attention for its violent attacks in central Mali.  The group’s leader, Amadou Kouffa, is a mentee of Ghali, and his group was allegedly formed as an affiliate to Ansar Dine for coordination of its operations in central and southern Mali.  The media attributed several attacks in 2015 to the FLM that Ansar Dine claimed responsibility for; however, it is unclear which group actually carried out the attacks. [73]

Community Relationships

Ansar Dine established Shariah law in its territory in Timbuktu, banning alcohol, smoking, cemetery visits on Fridays, soccer and demanding that all women wear veils. [74] The militant group punished those in its occupied territory that did not follow strict Shariah law by whipping them.  Youth protests erupted in July 2012 in Goundam, a city in the Timbuktu region, after Ansar Dine whipped a woman holding her child for not having her veil properly positioned. [75]   The group gave permission to Malian humanitarian groups to enter Northern Mali, under the condition that Ansar Dine was in charge of the transfer of goods and the distribution of the food and medicines. [76] [77] 


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