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In the Sahel, the Islamic State group extends its predation


At the cost of bloody fighting, massacres and displacement of civilians, the Islamic State group in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) is now in a position of strength in northeastern Mali, which serves as a base for its expansionist aims in Niger and the Burkina Faso, according to analysts.

Less than a year after the departure of the last French soldiers from Mali in August 2022, the jihadist organization has extended its control in the immense remote and arid area known as “the three borders”, committing numerous abuses against civilians.

The capture of Tidermène, a locality located north of Ménaka at the beginning of April, is the last stage of a victorious offensive begun in 2022 against its rivals from the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM, or JNIM according to the acronym Arab), affiliated with Al-Qaeda, the Malian army and local Tuareg-dominated armed groups in the Ménaka region.

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The fighting caused hundreds of civilian deaths, without it being possible to give their precise number as access to the area and to information is difficult.

Only the regional capital Ménaka escapes them, secured by the Malian army, UN blue helmets (Minusma) as well as armed groups. “The population is traumatized, we can’t get out of Ménaka, the road to Gao is blocked”worries a resident to AFP.

An offensive on the city, however, seems unlikely. In Mali as in the northeast of Burkina Faso, the jihadists prefer to isolate the agglomerations and control the rural areas.

Legitimized plunder

ISGS fighters “prowl about 15 km from Ménaka and demand a passage tax for transporters connecting Ménaka to Niger or Gao while extorting cattle from communities”describes a UN source in the city.

Cattle theft is one of the main sources of funding for the organization, which mainly recruits nomadic herders threatened by the development of agricultural crops in a region neglected by the central state.


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The rise of cross-border banditry and then jihadist groups from 2012 plunged pastoral communities in the region into a cycle of violence.

In 2018, fighting between the EIGS, erected as the protector of certain marginalized Fulani factions, and local armed groups partly composed of Daoussahak, a community of Tuareg herders, degenerated into massacres of civilians perpetrated by both sides.

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In March 2022, the EIGS decreed a fatwa allowing the blood of the Daoussahak to be shed and their property to be seized. In the months that followed, his fighters “attacked dozens of villages and massacred large numbers of civilians in the vast regions of northeastern Mali (…) These attacks largely targeted the Daoussahak ethnic group”, according to the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW). More than 30,000 displaced people have converged over the past year in the town of Ménaka, according to the UN.

“The organization legitimizes the looting of rebellious communities, it mobilizes fighters from all over the region who are attracted by the spoils, then they attack en masse and overwhelm the adversary”assures AFP a Malian military source.

In the conquered territories, the populations must submit to the sharia (Islamic law) and pay the zakat, a tax levied in the name of Islam, in exchange for some form of protection. The organization also capitalizes on a phenomenon of “peasant uprising against states that have difficulty fulfilling their security and social contract”underlines General Abou Tarka, president of the High Authority for the consolidation of peace in Niger.


This opportunistic model finds recruits within communities. The jihadists “Have a catchy speech. They recruit, strengthen their positions, and gradually shine”describes Kalla Moutari, former Minister of Defense of Niger.

According to Liam Karr, an analyst for the American Enterprise Institute, the EIGS will use the areas under its control around Ménaka as “logistics base to increase its operations in the region. The organization is expanding towards northern Mali and northeastern Burkina Faso where it had lost its footing to GSIM after its defeats in 2020”.

This extension also threatens the center of Niger, a wide corridor of about 200 km between Mali and Nigeria where groups of bandits have been raging for decades, notably smuggling weapons.

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“The jihadization of banditry constitutes a growing risk” in this region, alerted the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank in 2021.

Observers are concerned about a tightening of ties between ISGS and the West African branch of the Islamic State group, Iswap (English acronym), active in northeastern Nigeria via influential cross-border criminal groups.

For Liam Karr, “the simultaneous resurgence of activity by EIGS and Iswap will (…) put Niger’s resources to the test by threatening the country on two fronts”.

The World with AFP