UN calls threat from violent extremists in Mali 'alarming'

AP News
Posted: Mar 29, 2016 5:37 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Security threats from violent extremists and criminal groups in Mali are still "alarming" and the government must deploy more troops to the volatile north and step up efforts to reform its military and police, according to a new U.N. report.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the report to the U.N. Security Council obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press that in spite of improved relations among signatories to last June's peace agreement, north and central Mali "remain under the threat of criminal, violent extremist and terrorist groups, which take advantage of the limited presence of Malian law enforcement institutions."

Mali's northern half fell to Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led military intervention drove the militants out of major towns, but north and central Mali remain insecure. Over the past year, jihadis have mounted a growing wave of violent attacks against foreigners and U.N. peacekeepers who are trying to help stabilize the country.

During the three-month period between mid-December and mid-March, the report said "hostile acts" targeting the U.N. peacekeeping mission called MINUSMA resulted in the deaths of seven peacekeepers, one civilian staffer and one civilian contractor. That compares with two peacekeepers, one civilian staffer and two civilian contractors killed during the previous three-month period.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the November attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital, Bamako, the attack on a cafe near a hotel popular with foreigners in Burkina Faso's capital, and the assault on a beach in Ivory Coast earlier this month. It said the Mali and Ivory Coast attacks were carried out with al-Mourabitoun, an Islamic extremist group in Mali, which joined al-Qaida's North Africa branch in 2015.

An extremist attack on the European Union military training mission's headquarters in Bamako just over a week ago was not included in the report.

The secretary-general said "extremist and terrorist groups" remain determined to undermine Mali's peace process, increasingly targeting its national and international supporters.

He cited evidence of increasing cooperation among militant groups across the Sahel, pointing to the recent attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast and abductions of foreigners in Mali and Burkina Faso also claimed by Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. He said the abductions also signaled a potential increase in the targeting of foreigners in a band of territory extending to Niger as well.

The report said the nearly 10,700-strong U.N. military force in Mali still needs a combat convoy battalion, a force protection company, 134 armored personnel carriers, an attack helicopter unit, and military helicopters with night flight capabilities. He added that 11 contingents in the U.N. force lack required U.N. equipment.

But he said ultimately the successful stabilization of Mali depends on the government's stepped up efforts to confront the insecurity and extremists.