On April 25, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Mali, Group for Supporters of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), claimed that it kidnapped Russian Wagner Group “soldiers” in Segou (Twitter/@Lesoirdebamako, April 26). This occurred despite the fact that the Malian government has denied even the existence of the Wagner Group in its territory. Rather, the Malian military rulers, who came to power through a coup in 2021, only acknowledge “Russian trainers” being in the country (lemonde.fr, April 25).
Although JNIM’s claim appears credible, the group’s lack of any publicized video showing Wagner Group soldiers in the group’s custody lowers the authenticity of the claim. Such a JNIM video would not only embarrass Mali government by showing their claims about the Wagner Group to be false, but would also exacerbate Mali’s relations with France, which, among other European countries, has withdrawn its counter-terrorism forces from Mali and oppose the deployment of Wagner Group in the country. The Malian government accuses France of “subversion” for criticizing the lack of democratic transition in Mali, which, in turn, has led Mali to court closer ties with Russia (Senenews.com, April 27).
The Wagner Group has also been accused of partaking in massacres of Malian, and specifically Fulani, civilians suspected of collaborating with JNIM. Whether or not the Malian government’s denials of those accusations are credible, JNIM retaliated for these deaths of civilians by killing six Malian soldiers with suicide car bombs on April 6 in Segou (dakaractu.com, April 25). At the same time these attacks took place, elsewhere in northern Benin JNIM launched attacks and extended its reach further westward in the Sahel (Senenews.com, April 27).
North of Segou, JNIM attempts to enter Sevare in the Mopti region have been thwarted. The fact that JNIM fighters have been seen walking in villages on the outskirts of Sevare and have been killed while conducting raids into the city itself indicates that the city could be captured in the future (Twitter/@511ZGS, April 27). JNIM is not currently able to control territory in Mali and neighboring Sahelian countries like its predecessors did in 2012-2013. However, the continued political turmoil in the country, combined with the questionable support from Russia and decreasing counter-terrorism support from the West, does bode well for JNIM’s future prospects.
JNIM’s ideology, meanwhile, remains consistent with broader al-Qaeda ideology. Its deputy leader, Abu Yahya, appeared in a video on April 26 calling on the “mujahideen” to continue waging jihad and promised that Allah would grant them victory (Twitter/@ocisse691, April 26). Any such victory for JNIM no longer has France standing in the way, at least in Mali, but rather the Malian army and, despite its refutations, also Russia’s Wagner Group.