DIIS Reports, Danish Institute for International Studies 2013:08
On January 11, 2013, France initiated a military intervention in Mali. The French operation Serval targeted a raft of militant Islamist groups, which in 2012 had taken control of the northern part of the country. The aim of the current report is to provide an overview of the militant groups in Northern Mali to make an assessment of their current situation. Are they weakened by the intervention, and how are we to understand the relations between the various groups? The first part of the report presents the political context of the conflict and outlines the political meltdown of Mali in 2012, where a Tuareg rebellion combined with a coup d'état plunged the country into a deep crisis. The second part maps out ideologies, practices and recent history of the three major Islamist groups Ansar Dine, AQIM (al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb) and Mujao (Mouvement pour l'unité et jihad en Afrique de l'Ouest). The final part argues that although the militant Islamist groups are currently on the defensive, AQIM and various splinter-groups have advantages such as knowledge of the terrain, experience of guerilla-war and time on their side. Moreover, the general threat against Western targets in the region has become more complex and dynamic, since it no longer stems from these groups in a strict sense, but from a loose and fluctuating network of like-minded groups.