Center for Strategic Communication

The US State Department and the United Nations added Ansar Dine, a Mali terrorist group with close ties to al Qaeda, to their lists of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Today’s designations follow the addition of the group’s emir, Iyad ag Ghali, to the US and UN’s lists of global terrorists late last month.

Ansar Dine, or Defenders of the Faith, allied with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) to take control of northern Mali in March 2012, and helped to administer sharia, or Islamic law, in areas under their control. AQIM’s emir noted that Ansar Dine would be the local face for al Qaeda while the terror groups trained terrorists and plotted to attack outside of the region.

The State Department said that Ansar Dine “cooperates closely with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” and “has received support from AQIM since its inception in late 2011, and continues to maintain close ties to the group.”

Ansar Dine “has received backing from AQIM in its fight against Malian and French forces, most notably in the capture of the Malian towns of Agulhok, Tessalit, Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu, between January and April 2012,” State continued. Ansar Dine “executed 82 Malian soldiers and kidnapped 30 more” during its takeover of the town of Aguelhok in March 2012.

The United Nations stated that Ansar Dine received significant “military support” from AQIM “in its fight against the Malian Armed Forces, notably in the capture of the towns of Aguelhok on 24 January 2012; Tessalit on 10 March 2012; Kidal on 30 March 2012; Gao on 30 March 2012; and Timbuktu on 1 April 2012.”

The UN also noted that Ansar Dine emir Iyad ag Ghali “received a payment of 400,000 euros from one of the leaders of an AQIM brigade in the Sahel, the Tariq ibn Ziyad Brigade” and “welcomed numerous AQIM fighters” into his rank and file.

“The ties between Ansar Dine and AQIM have grown stronger since November 2012,” the UN said, citing the establishment of joint offices with AQIM and MUJAO in Gao in November 2012.

Also, in November 2012, Ansar Dine established “an alliance” with AQIM and MUJAO, “and a common strategy was defined.” The UN designation went on to state that Ansar Dine’s emir “expressed his support for AQIM’s ideology” in late November.

Close relationship between AQIM, Ansar Dine, has been clear

The close relationship between Ansar Dine and AQIM and MUJAO was apparent during the takeover of northern Mali in early 2012. Press reports from Mali indicated that the three groups coordinated military operations, cross-trained fighters, and set up areas of responsibilities in regions under their control. In January 2013, the three groups launched a coordinated offensive to take control of central Mali, and were preparing to advance on the capital of Bamako before French troops intervened.

But the nature of the relationship between the Ansar Dine and AQIM became crystal clear when a lengthy letter written by Abdelmalek Droukdel, the emir of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, to his fighters in northern Mali showed that the group sought to use the country to wage a global jihad. Droukdel instructed his followers to mask their operations and “pretend to be a ‘domestic’ movement” so as not to draw international attention and intervention. Ansar Dine was to be the local face of the jihadist movement, while AQIM established training camps for external jihadist operations [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda in Mali sought to hide foreign designs].