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The Mali Coup and the State of Terrorism

The coup that took place in Mali last week raises a question about the future of armed groups that adopt Islam as their ideology, and practice terrorism in its name. Mali, the eighth-largest country in Africa, has witnessed four coups since its independence from France in 1960. Geographically, it is close to one of the most violent terrorist organizations in the world, Boko Haram, which originated in Nigeria. The Al-Mourabitoun organization, allied with Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, was unable to take over Mali and declare a caliphate due to the Western intervention in the country – especially of French forces. These foreign troops prevented local terror groups from achieving their goal of establishing a home base in Mali. With no other options left, terror groups resorted to mass violence across the war-torn country. For example, in November 2015, terror groups stormed a hotel in the capital city of Bamako and took several hostages, including French, American, Chinese and Turkish nationals. Malian forces intervened to rescue them, backed by a 300-person special unit of the French army that had been stationed in Mali. This begs the question of whether terror groups will continue pursuing grand objectives such as forming a caliphate and establishing independent statelets or whether they are merely interested in high-visibility attacks that garner widespread media attention. France intervened and prevented the extremists from seizing northern Mali and declaring a state on it, similar to what we witnessed in Syria, Iraq and Somalia. But the kidnapping incident served as an act of revenge against Mali and the West. Those who took over the government last week must work to stabilize the political and security situation in the country. Terrorists thrive in political turmoil, and this most recent coup is no exception. The Al-Mourabitoun organization is carefully and patiently observing the events in Bamako and waiting for the right moment to act. There is real fear that the change in government in Mali will result in a series of terror attacks that undermine the country’s sovereignty. They could also target Western assets in Mali such as embassies and major companies. Therefore, whoever takes the reins in the upcoming days and weeks must first and foremost aspire to restore public order in Mali and work with Western countries to keep a close watch over local terror groups. – Ammar Ali Hassan (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)