Overview: A coup d’état on August 18 resulted in the overthrow of the democratically elected government headed by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. A military junta assumed control of the government until a transition government was inaugurated on September 25 for an 18-month term. Despite the extraconstitutional change in government, Mali’s longstanding CT partnerships with foreign forces in country — particularly France’s Operation Barkhane —continued. Terrorist activities increased in number and lethality throughout the country and continued to target civilians, Mali’s Armed Forces (FAMa), international peacekeepers, and international military forces. Terrorist groups active in Mali include ISIS in the Greater Sahara and Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslim — the umbrella group that formed in 2017 after the Sahara Branch of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Murabitoun, Ansar al-Dine, and the Macina Liberation Front merged.
Mali continued to rely heavily on MINUSMA and French forces in efforts to stabilize and secure the northern and central regions. The French military’s Operation Barkhane, an integrated CT mission for the Sahel region, continued efforts to degrade terrorist elements operating in Mali.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: JNIM and ISIS-GS continued to conduct terrorist attacks, primarily targeting Malian and international peacekeeping and military forces. Attacks by terrorist groups continued to press farther south and intensified in the Mopti and Ségou Regions. In 2020, there were hundreds of terrorist attacks, including the following significant incidents:
- On March 25, members of JNIM kidnapped political opposition leader Soumaila Cisse. They held Cisse until the beginning of October, when the transition government agreed to release more than 200 prisoners, suspected jihadists and JNIM affiliates among them, in exchange for Cisse and three European citizens.
- At the beginning of October, suspected terrorists laid siege to Farabougou, a town roughly 260 miles northeast of Bamako. They encircled the town, allowing no one to enter or leave. The government sent FAMa and Special Forces units to assist the population and retake the town but was unsuccessful. As of December the town remained under terrorist control.
- Throughout the spring, unidentified armed groups attacked several bridges in Mali’s center region, damaging or destroying them. MINUSMA and FAMa established guard posts to protect the repairs of these major thoroughfares, but this did not deter subsequent attacks in later months, highlighting the desire of violent extremist groups to isolate local populations.
- On November 30, terrorists launched rocket attacks on three separate military installations spread over 400 miles, demonstrating a new level of sophistication and coordination. Orchestrated by JNIM, rockets landed simultaneously on FAMa and international bases, causing damage to infrastructure but no reported casualties.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There were no changes to Mali’s CT legal framework in 2020. Plans for a massive CT-related legislative overhaul in April were suspended indefinitely, although some 30 terrorism cases went to trial. Initially, this delay was due to the outbreak of COVID-19, and was later exacerbated by the coup in August.
Mali’s vast and porous borders extend some 4,500 miles and touch seven neighboring countries. The Gendarmerie and the National Border Police both provide security and law enforcement support to prevent and deter criminal activity at borders; however, both agencies are understaffed, poorly trained, and lack essential equipment and resources. Customs officials under the Ministry of Economy and Finance monitor the flow of goods and enforce customs laws at borders and ports of entry. Mali receives INTERPOL notices, but access to the INTERPOL database is unavailable outside of Bamako. Exit and entry stamps used by border officials have inconsistent size and shape, undermining efforts to authenticate travel documents. The government receives Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) certificates for passport security information from the ICAO; however, the information sharing is done manually and inconsistently. Security features for Malian passports remain unchanged. Imposters obtain fraudulent documents, such as birth and marriage certificates, with relative ease, undermining the veracity of Malian identification documents.
The transition government has made little progress toward implementation of UNSCR 2396 regarding border security. Mali previously implemented biometric (that is, fingerprint and facial recognition) screening at established ports of entry. However, Mali has little or no control over its many and vast territorial borders, allowing terrorists to cross them with ease.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: There have been no changes since 2018. Mali is a member of GIABA. Mali’s FIU, the National Financial Intelligence Processing Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. Efforts to counter terrorism financing remain ineffective because of lack of resources, training, basic auditing tools, and automation.
Countering Violent Extremism: Despite the inclusion of armed group representatives in the transition government, progress on implementation of the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali (Algiers Accord) was limited. The transition government has not yet announced its strategy to combat violent extremism. While FAMa continues their cooperation with international forces to protect civilian populations, it is unclear what the transition government’s plan will be moving forward and how it will integrate the efforts of civil society and religious leaders.
International and Regional Cooperation: As a result of the coup, Mali was temporarily suspended from the regional blocs, both the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the AU. Further, as a result of the military coup, U.S. foreign assistance, including security assistance, for the Government of Mali is restricted under U.S. law. Mali is a GCERF recipient country, with localized programs to prevent and counter violent extremism.