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Mali Attack Explained: Who, Why and What’s Next?

Malian security forces were hunting on Saturday for at least three at-large suspects involved in the brazen attack on a five-star hotel that killed 21 people in the heart of the capital, Bamako.

A breakaway al-Qaeda faction from the country’s troubled north, al-Mourabitoun, claimed responsibility for the nine-hour siege that ended after special forces stormed the hotel, killing two attackers.But Friday’s assault on the Radisson Blu was just the latest in a series of attacks this year on high-profile targets in a country that has battled various rebel groups for years.

The situation is complex. Here, I answer some frequently asked questions.

Who are al-Mourabitoun and what is their relationship with the other groups they coordinated with?

Al-Mourabitoun is a splinter group of al-Qaeda in The Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Its founder Mokhtar Belmokhtar, also known as Bella’war, was initially the leader of AQIM until he split from it in 2012. The initial name he gave to his new group translates as: “Those who sign with blood.” Then he changed the name to “al-Mourabitoun” (an Islamic state that ruled over parts of North Africa and southern Spain in the 11th and 12th centuries).

Belmokhtar is known for his uncompromising approach. He staged several attacks on Western targets in the region. The biggest such attack was in 2013 when his group seized a gas plant in southern Algeria killing 40 hostages, including three US citizens. 

Earlier this year, his men attacked a restaurant in Bamako killing a French national and a Belgian.

In August, they also attacked a hotel in another Malian city killing 13 people.

Even though al-Mourabitoun split from AQIM, it remained loyal to the top leadership of al-Qaeda. When some of the AQIM sub-groups announced allegiance to ISIL, al-Mourabitoun stayed away from it. 

Now we see signs of emerging cooperation between those different groups. Al-Mourabitoun announced in its statement on Friday that it staged the Radisson Blu attack in conjunction with AQIM.

Belmokhtar has a $5m bounty on his head, placed by the US after the Algeria gas plant attack.

He’s been announced dead a few times after US and French attempts to kill him, but his group always denied the claim.

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