One of the main jihadist leaders in the Sahel, Iyad Ag-Ghaly, recently met with a number of personalities from northern Mali, including leaders of armed groups fighting like him against groups affiliated with the Islamic State organization, said -we learned from sources close to the discussions.
These confidential meetings in the Kidal region took place while speculation has been going on for months about the possibility of an alliance between the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM, JNIM in Arabic), the jihadist alliance led by Iyad Ag-Ghaly and affiliated with Al-Qaeda, and armed groups in the north that have signed a peace agreement with the Malian government, in the face of the push by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) in a vast northeast region.
Sources speaking to AFP did not report any talks of the possibility of an alliance. But they indicated that the existence of a common enemy had figured prominently. They spoke on condition of anonymity given the security and political sensitivity of the subject. “I was received individually and alone by Iyad Ag-Ghaly last week in the Kidal region. Others went in small groups. He held the same speech: the unity of the sons of the Kidal region,” explained a community leader.
North Strategic Node
Kidal is a strategic node in the north, controlled not by the Malian state, but by the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), a coalition of Tuareg-dominated armed groups that fought for the independence of the north from 2012. , then signed a peace agreement in 2015 with the state and loyalist armed groups. Radical Islamists, who also went on the offensive in 2012, continue to fight and have spread to central Mali and neighboring countries.
If the region of Kidal is relatively preserved from the violence, further south, in the sectors of Gao and Ménaka, the CMA, the loyalist groups and the GSIM have been engaged separately and for months in intense fighting against the EIGS. The violence has caused hundreds of civilian deaths and caused massive movements of displaced persons.
Iyad Ag-Ghaly "welcomed the merger expected in early February of all the movements" composing the CMA, the previously quoted source said. The separatist and separatist groups that make up the CMA could indeed announce their merger during a meeting in early February in the north, several sources close to the coordination said.
The Tuareg Iyad Ag-Ghaly has long been considered by a number of Malian officials as an essential interlocutor in the Malian crisis. He has been a government interlocutor in the past.
However, the question of a dialogue with certain jihadist leaders has disappeared from public debate since the military seized power in Bamako following a putsch in 2020.
" A novelty "
The recent encounters are not "a new thing", said another community leader, according to whom Iyad Ag-Ghaly has always been in contact with influential men in his region. What is is that they are leaking, he added.
Iyad Ag-Ghaly also received representatives of the civilian populations, reported an official of the administration of the locality of Kidal. "He reassured these defenseless people of his willingness to defend sharia [Islamic law] and to protect them against the Malian army and the Russian mercenaries", which the junta in Bamako is accused of having appealed to. which she denies, he said.
Iyad Ag-Ghaly "wants to establish himself as the undisputed leader of the northern Sahel by obtaining the support of the populations and various armed groups", analyzes a foreign diplomat informed of the "periodic" meetings between the jihadist leader and actors on the ground in the North. The diplomat wonders about the reaction of the authorities to "this new disturbing landscape".
The authorities dominated by the military claim to have reversed the dynamic against the jihadists. "Contrary to the tendentious information conveyed by certain media clearly on a mission against Mali, fear has changed sides," Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga said on Monday. The UN in particular paints a darker picture.
The CMA and other groups suspended in December 2022 their participation in the implementation of the peace agreement signed in 2015, in the face of what they consider to be the "inertia" of the junta in the face of the situation in the north -is. The application of this agreement is considered important for the stabilization of Mali. An international mission of good offices is due to go to Kidal on Wednesday to try to renew ties, we learned from diplomatic sources.