Five things you should know about Mali’s relationship with France

Friday’s terrorist assault on a hotel in the Malian capital points to the re-emergence of a radical insurgency in the West African nation less than three years after French troops helped the former colony drive out Islamic extremists.

“The government has become a little complacent,” said Jennifer Cooke, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who recently returned from a trip to Mali.

Mali security forces, aided by U.S. and French special forces, ended a daylong siege Friday of the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako after alleged Islamic extremists seized as many as 170 hostages. At least 20 people were killed, Malian security forces said.

Al-Mourabitoun, an al-Qaeda-linked group based in northern Mali, posted a message on Twitter saying it was behind the attack, Reuters reported. The claim could not immediately be verified.

If the group was responsible, it would suggest a growing competition for Islamic militants between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, an al-Qaeda offshoot that split off to form its own brutal terrorist force and now holds territory in Iraq and Syria.

Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have been vying for the allegiance of local extremist groups operating in the Middle East and Africa.

In Mali, the French still have a counterterrorism force of about 1,000, part of a larger regional force in the area. The United Nations also has a peacekeeping force of about 10,000 in the country. It borders Nigeria, which has been plagued by the terror group Boko Haram, which announced an alliance with the Islamic State earlier this year.

The Islamic State said it was behind last week’s Paris terrorist attacks. It is not clear if the latest assault was connected in any way to the Paris massacre, given France’s close ties to Mali. The two nations have had close investment and security links for decades.

In 2011, France and other Western countries grew concerned about Islamic extremism taking root in the north, where a separatist movement was waging an insurgency against the central government.


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The extremists began moving toward the more populated south, which raised alarms. That led to a French incursion in January 2013, which drove extremists out of the north and helped quell the insurgency.

More recently there have been small terrorist attacks in the south, which has raised concerns that Islamic extremists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, may be making a comeback even if they no longer control much terrain.

“France has been so intricately involved in Mali,” Cooke said.

Because assailants targeted a hotel in the country’s capital, the attack appeared to be linked to terrorism, not the insurgency or criminal gangs who also operate in the north, analysts said.

“The fact that this hits at heart of country, it seems more purely ideological,” Cooke said. “This is the first big hit in the south that has to wake the country up.”

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