Mali not geared up to combat terrorist threat

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Flowers have been laid at the entrance the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako on 24 November 2015Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Tributes have been paid to the victims of the siege

Nearly a week after the attack on the Radisson Blu hotel, Malian special forces made their first arrests.

Two suspects are being held in connection with the attack, in which 22 people died, but their identities and their alleged role in the siege remain unknown.

But these arrests could give investigators their first tangible leads about the attackers.

Mali's state television has been showing images of the two militants killed when security forces broke the hotel siege last Friday.

The authorities appealed for those who can identify them to come forward.

If anything, these pictures show how young the two men were,­ barely out of their teens.

"We have set up a team of about ten experts who are working closely with the Malian prosecutor in charge of the case," said Olivier Salgado, the spokesman for the UN mission in Mali.

These UN staff - mostly French - include ballistic experts and officers helping with the interrogation of suspects.

France is a former colonial ruler of the country, and retains strong links.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
French gendarmes have not been able to identify the attackers from their guns

One of the French gendarmes who have been looking at the attackers' Kalashnikovs said that they were hoping to understand where these weapons were coming from.

"There are too many fingerprints on them now, so we can't get anything useful as to their identities," he told reporters in the capital, Bamako.


There have been two claims for the attack - including one signed by two different jihadist groups - but it remains unclear which of the groups is behind it.

Questions also remain over how the assailants entered the hotel despite the presence of security guards at the front barrier.

The Radisson Blu, popular with foreign businessmen, airline crews and visiting delegations, was meant to be one of the best-guarded hotels in Bamako.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Many of the hostages were foreign guests at the hotel

More than two and a half years ago, the French led a military campaign to stop the advance of al-Qaeda linked groups, which had taken over nearly two-thirds of the country in 2012.

Jihadist groups are not occupying towns any more, but attacks have increased this year and Mali's north remains one of West Africa's biggest security problems.

France says its counter-insurgency operations there are necessary to prevent Islamist militants from using this vast swathe of desert as a launchpad for further attacks in Europe.

Arms caches

This week the French army announced it had just completed a month-long operation with about 1,000 troops sweeping northern Mali and Niger.

It says two militants were killed and several others arrested. Moreover, soldiers have found about 20 arms caches as well as six pick-up trucks. The weapons they seized include mortars, rockets, about a dozen automatic weapons, thousand of ammunition rounds and dozens of kilos of explosives.

"It would be worse if the French were not there," said Amadou Thiam, an MP from the presidential majority.

"The Malian forces cannot secure the north - they lack means and logistics. We need those foreign troops."

Germany announced on Wednesday it would send 650 additional troops to Mali - about 200 German soldiers are currently deployed in the country - to support and relieve France, who is also militarily engaged in Iraq and Syria.

But Mr Thiam says the threat has now changed. He believes militants have established sleeping cells in different parts of the country, including in Bamako.

The Radisson Blu massacre is the second attack of its kind in the capital this year, and the third in the country.

Five people, including two Europeans, were killed at a popular restaurant on 7 March. Twelve people died in a hotel siege in the central town of Sevare on 8 August.

Militancy in Mali:

  • October 2011: Ethnic Tuaregs launch rebellion after returning with arms from Libya
  • March 2012: Army coup over government's handling of rebellion; a month later Tuareg and al-Qaeda-linked fighters seize control of north
  • June 2012: Islamist groups capture Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao from Tuaregs, start to destroy Muslim shrines and manuscripts and impose Sharia
  • January 2013: Islamist fighters capture a central town, raising fears they could reach Bamako. Mali requests French help
  • July 2013: UN force, now totalling about 12,000, takes over responsibility for securing the north after Islamists routed from towns
  • July 2014: France launches an operation in the Sahel to stem jihadist groups
  • Attacks continue in northern desert area, blamed on Tuareg and Islamist groups
  • 2015: Terror attacks in the capital, Bamako, and central Mali

"We are not up for the fight against terrorism - we are not prepared enough," Mr Thiam laments.

"Look at our police force, it's just not big enough. There is no need to look at European countries; we are even way behind other African nations."

Freedom of movement

Mali's parliament is looking into the potential creation of an anti-terrorism agency.

There are also talks about regrouping street vendors from Bamako's city centre to dedicated market areas so there is less potential for widespread untidiness and chaos which could potentially be exploited by militants - a similar move to that undertaken in neighbouring Senegal months ago.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
President Keita said Mali would "do everything to eradicate terrorism" in the country

Speaking after last Friday's attack, Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita even suggested that freedom of movement enjoyed by citizens of the West African bloc Ecowas should be discussed at a next regional summit.

For now, Malian police conduct overnight joint patrols with UN peacekeepers in Bamako.

The state of emergency in place also enables Malian forces to search houses if needed.

"This state of emergency is a logical reaction to what happened," says Badie Hima, director of the National Democratic Institute in Bamako.

But if "security is fundamental", Mr Hima warns Mali and neighbouring countries "shouldn't forget more basic needs and rights".

"People have social rights like access to good healthcare, education and employment.

"Denying those rights will further destabilise our societies and cause insecurity," he says.