Violence is tearing Mali and the Sahel apart. But who are the armed groups behind the bloodshed? Where are international actors stationed in the region? And what motivates them all? This project maps jihadist and non-jihadist groups and pinpoints the presence of external actors in the region as of May 2019.

Katibat Macina

This group, led by Amadou Kouffa and a founding member of JNIM, is one of the most active jihadist armed groups in Mali today. Kouffa was an imam known in central Mali for his preaching and piety in the late 2000s, when he became more radical, possibly after having met Iyad Ag Ghali through the Da’wa movement, the local name for the Tablighi Jama’at. He joined Ansar al-Din in 2012 and began reorganising to wage a more concerted struggle in the central Mopti region. Originally referred to in press reports at the Front du Libération du Macina, Katibat Macina began operating more publicly after 2015, when it claimed an attack on the Byblos Hotel in Mopti, an attack also claimed by al-Mourabitoun. During this time, it maintained ties with Ansar al-Din, although these were not formalised until 2015 and even then not fully until the creation of JNIM.

In 2016, Katibat Macina began operating more seriously in the Niger Delta, an agriculturally rich area. It built a significant part of its outreach efforts around the discontent of local Peul populations, a lack of justice in the area, and social tensions that also helped fuel jihadist recruitment in there in 2012. It faced significant local opposition due to the harsh interpretation of the shari’a that it sought to impose and the efforts to curtail traditional celebrations linked to herders taking their animals across the river to search for pasturelands. Nonetheless, by 2017, a softened approach and growing communal conflict between Peul communities and groups of traditional hunters and local militias helped create a more conducive environment for the group. Since then, Katibat Macina has become increasingly implicated in these conflicts as well as increasing the number of attacks against United Nations forces in central Mali and Malian forces, occupying different parts of Mopti and also conducting attacks further south and west, in the regions of Segou, Koulikoro near the Mauritanian border, and also in areas around Banamba further south. It has repeatedly occupied towns in Mopti, and continues to operate widely despite Malian, UN, and increasingly French pressure. French officials claimed that a French Special Forces assault on an apparent Katibat Macina base in November 2018 killed Kouffa, only for Kouffa to appear in a video soon after, proving that he remained alive.